(Originally posted Dec. 11, 2016)
CJ: The year is 2017. The world economy has collapsed, food, natural resources, and oil are in short supply, and a police state rules with an iron fist. Instead of making a joke about Donald Trump that is either brilliant or hacky depending on how you voted, I’d like to point out that a very fresh and interesting concept for how to handle our prison overcrowding problem has been implemented to great success and fanfare:
This is “The Running Man,” the 1987 dystopian future thriller starring Maria Conchita Alonso and some guy named Arnold Schwarzenegger, which Kevin and I recently caught on the big screen in Austin as part of Alamo Drafthouse’s “Weird Wednesday” series: https://drafthouse.com/austin/series/weird-wednesday
As many of you may remember from its time as an HBO staple, in this version of the future, convicted criminals are forced to fight for their lives during broadcasts of the hugely popular game show “The Running Man.” I assume it’s popular because they keep showing one street corner with a giant TV and outdoor sports book surrounded by lower-class workers who get really into it by shouting and throwing pieces of paper at one bookie … which seems like a very disorganized betting system. Maybe other street corners prefer “Confess” or “The Hate Boat.”
Enter a tall Austrian who is shown from the start to be an honorable man who refuses to murder people. This is on full display when he starts murdering people. His opposite on the morality scale is played by Richard Dawson, former host of “Family Feud” and current host of government-sanctioned butchery, as – I’m not shitting you about this – Damon Killian. Apparently “Damon Badguy” was a little too on-the-nose for screenwriter Steven E. de Souza.
As in “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Action Jackson” (which the Round Table will be tackling very soon), this film continues the tradition of bad guys who everyone should have known right away were evil. Not only does the man throw his arms up in a V-for-victory sign time and time again as the crowd chants in unison, but let’s not forget that he’s named Killian, not Tolerancian. The only thing missing would have been a scene where Killian’s producer argues about how putting a convicted teenage felon on the show might be going too far, at which point Killian would nonchalantly dismiss him with a “well maybe next time he’ll think twice before stealing bread for his family” as he sips from a snifter of brandy. And then he breaks a puppy’s little puppy leg.
It is also disturbing how energetically and joyously Dawson plays Killian, as if he’s a little too comfortable in this role. This leads me to believe that after retiring from the Feud he tried hosting a home version of “The Running Man” to horribly disastrous results. Blood and tears everywhere.
Some additional thoughts about “The Running Man”:
- Maria Conchito Alonso plays Amber Mendez, a lady who specifically states that she wrote the network theme song and only the network theme song. Why is she still going into the office every day?
- Maria spends the second half of the movie constantly telling everyone within earshot that they need to get out of there. I think de Souza forgot he wrote this character.
- Kevin did you notice that Arnie’s entire plan at getting though airport security hinged on other people in line complaining while he pretended to fish around in Alonso’s purse and doing the whole “you know women and their purses, amirite fellas” routine? What if, while poking around for a second travel pass that he did not have, no one said anything? What was his next step, fumbling eternally as things got increasingly awkward?
I can’t tell if the stalkers are scary or so ridiculous that I’d never want to admit they killed me once I got past the pearly gates:
“So CJ, heard you got killed by one of the stalkers.”
“Nope, you heard wrong. Sorority girls kidnapped me and banged me to death.”
“Really? Marty was saying it was Dynamo who got you.”
“There were like eight of them, took me back to their house and tied me to the bed.”
“But you’ve got some burns on your back there, that’s trademark Dynamo.”
“Candle wax. Poured it all over while they took turns viciously pleasuring me.”
“I’m not buying this.”
“They were virgins.”
Finally, I’m convinced Killian and his weirdly sensitive bodyguard Sven were having an affair.
Kevin: Let me start by addressing that last point because yeah, there seemed to be a little something unspoken going on between these two. I can’t imagine Killian has never lashed out or said unkind things to his staff in the heat of the moment, but he makes one insult about his bodyguard using steroids and Sven at the end just turns his back and leaves him to die after making some really bitchy passive-aggressive remark about “going to score some steroids.” Sorry, but I think this was about more than the usual boss-henchman dynamic.
Now back to the beginning. We see Arnold refuse to fire on civilians and then get beaten and arrested by his fellow helicopter crew, a scene that we will see again several times as the same exact footage is later presented as “security camera footage.” Apparently future security cameras have great cinematography, multiple angles—including from outside the helicopter—and sometimes the ability to show the POV of someone. Also, Arnold makes the goofiest sounds when he’s being beaten and is in pain, probably because in real life he’s never been overtaken by anyone except at the box office.
Let’s also discuss that picture of Arnold and Maria at the airport. After breaking out of prison he goes to his brother’s apartment, and while Maria Conchita Alonso has been living there for two years the code has never been changed. Even though he has a lot of time to check out the place before she returns home, it takes Arnold a long time to figure out that his brother doesn’t live there anymore, what with all of his stuff being gone, a woman’s wardrobe in the closest, and a bunch of pictures of a Cuban woman and her family strewn around.
More importantly, Arnold has a brother! Outside of the joke premise in “Twins,” I don’t think Arnold has ever been shown to have a brother in a movie, and I’m disappointed we never see this guy because I’d love to see what actor could have possibly been cast as someone who looks like he shares Arnold’s DNA.
But yeah, back to Arnold’s foolproof plan for escaping the country to the now separate state of Hawaii, in a sequence which makes me doubt the regime’s supposed “iron fist” security. He walks around in an attention-getting outfit that he would never wear in real life if he was avoiding the paparazzi or sneaking into his maid’s guest house, much less evading a brutal dictatorship. Arnold also holds up the line for only like 10 seconds before the security guy waves him through. This may be a brutal police state that will kill you for any number of thought crimes, but they also want you to make your flight! Actually I’m starting to wish these guys were running the TSA now.
I’ll note that Maria escapes from Arnold by hitting him square in the balls with her fist and he reacts as if she stepped on his foot doing the two-step.
Now, regarding the other top shows in the future shown above, while I won’t say some of the satire in this movie is a tad obvious, I will note that a popular long-running show at the time this movie was filmed was “The Love Boat,” so it doesn’t seem like the screenwriters really knocked themselves out thinking of futuristic alternatives. Also:
1) That’s not a boat, it’s a catamaran.
2) I have no idea based on that poster what the concept of the show is. It’s just a painting of a catamaran in some water, there is nothing indicating the “Hate” part. I guess when you have only one government-sanctioned channel you don’t need to go nuts with the advertising.
3) Now this is how you sell a show folks:
That’s another aspect that makes this one of those movies that’s both set in the future and undeniably dated, in this case being the mid-1980s. All the TV graphics in “the future” are right out of Max Headroom, the women wear shoulder pads and big hair, the men all look like yuppies who just got done working at Lehman Brothers, and at one point the leader of the resistance (played by Dwezil Zappa?!) says “Don’t touch that dial,” a then well-known pop culture phrase that barely made it into the 1990s much less 2017.
Speaking of Zappa, another resistance fighter is played by Mick Fleetwood, whose character is named Mick and who mentions that the regime burned his “songs” at one point. Is he actually supposed to be the real Mick Fleetwood, and if so, are other members of Fleetwood Mac also in the resistance? Or did Stevie Nicks join the dark side like we knew she would? It’s after talking to Mick that Arnold says, “I’m not into politics, I’m into survival,” a line that his political opponents would have used in campaign ads if they weren’t the kind of granola-eating NPR listeners who’ve never seen “The Running Man.”