The Running Man (1987): Movie Man Jackson

(Originally posted as part of the Decades Blogathon, hosted by Tom at Thomas J, and Mark at threerowsback.com)

It’s 2017, and we are only two years away from this. 2017 has seen America become a terrible place. After an economic collapse, government has stepped up to suppress all individual rights and freedoms. Civilians are placated by a TV show that showcases convicted criminals fight for their lives in exchange for potential freedom. This show, known as The Running Man, is an ultraviolent hit and brings in massive ratings, spearheaded by its energetic host Damon Killian (Richard Dawson). But, those ratings have plateaued.

Now 2019, helicopter pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is wrongly painted as a mass murderer during a food riot, and promptly sent to prison. Though able to escape, he is eventually arrested. He’s given two choices: Go back into prison, presumably for life, or fight for freedom on The Running Man. Reluctant, Ben chooses to fight, where he will have to deal with gladiatorial-esque stalkers with names like “Dynamo,” “Subzero,” “Buzzsaw,” and “Fireball.” Each is hell-bent on not letting a “runner” like Ben beat them at their own game.

There are a couple of things that immediately pop into my mind as I think about the 1980’s. Big hair is one of them. The epidemics of AIDS and crack cocaine is another. Movie-wise, I think of “The Governor.” Arnold Schwarzenegger and the 80’s go together like Montana/Rice and Crockett/Tubbs, appearing in Hollywood action staples that need no listing. One less popular one that peak Arnold starred in was 1987’s The Running Man, and it is a lesser movie when held in comparison to The Terminator, Commando, Conan the Barbarian, and Predator. But, as a relative 80’s popcorn actioner, it qualifies as solid entertainment, and a clear inspiration for future films like Battle Royale, The Condemned, and of course, The Hunger Games.

There’s a reason the word relative is used. The Running Man, loosely adapted from Richard Backman’s (aka Stephen King) novel, does touch on—maybe even foreshadowed—themes and ideas still relevant today. The oft brainless and shock reality television of 2017 isn’t all that far off from what’s depicted in director Paul Michael Glaser’s (Starsky in the famous television show) feature. An appetite for violence can be loosely paralleled to the football and MMA fighting that some fans view religiously. Perhaps the best implemented idea showcased by the movie is how editing can tell the story in a specific fashion. This isn’t a novel idea, especially in this digital day and age, but a person could see it being eye-opening during this movie’s release.

It’s nice stuff, but, The Running Man does feel like it wants to really be a film that a person truly gives deep deep thought towards when in actually it isn’t quite to that intellectual and thought provoking level. Most of these ideas are introduced in the first 30-40 minutes at a surface level, and never go beyond this. Maybe Arnie was on to something about Glaser being “…out of his depth…” Part of it is due to the presentation. Hard to be taken very seriously when villains are given names like Subzero, Fireball, Buzzsaw, and Dynamo, with the latter seemingly outfitted with dopey Lite Brite pegs and singing opera as he zaps people.

It benefits science fictions films to be sometimes looked at in a vacuum with the absence of superior effects that today’s cinema world has. However, many older sci-fi films have more or less stood the test of time. The Running Man, from a technical standpoint, isn’t one of those films, with the animations and major special effects looking on par with, if not worse than, an average 90’s cartoon. And for being set in the future, most everything lacks from a creativity perspective; the technology especially isn’t that much different from what was being used in the decade. At least Harold Faltermeyer is there to provide the 80’s signature synth sounds in the score.

So, some of The Running Man is shoddy. But, it still has the charisma of “Ahnold” to bank on. His inherent likability and action prowess is used to make Richards a person to root for, even while spouting one-liners that are hit-and-miss and super corny. To paraphrase a random elderly lady in the movie, “[Ben Richards] is one mean motherf***er.” Opposing him is none other than Richard Dawson, the original Family Feud host who parodies his old persona here, doing a complete 180 as Damon Killian. He’s a real gem throughout. Everyone else is pretty forgettable, from the two Arnold sidekicks in Marvin J. McIntyre and Yaphet Kotto, to the eye candy and obvious love interest in Maria Conchita Alonso. Brief hammy roles are present by WWE legend Jesse Ventura and NFL legend Jim Brown. They’re as 80’s as one can imagine.

 

On the strength of Schwarzenegger, Dawson, and a unique (for the time) if not particularly thorough story, The Running Man is cheesy fun worth catching on a rerun.

B-

Photo credits go to craveonline.com, imdb.com, joblo.com, and top10films.co.uk

The Expendables 2: Movie Man Jackson

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“You wanna man up? I’ll man you up.” 

They’re back and this time it’s personal. This awfully generic tagline fits with The Expendables 2, which sees figurehead Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) once again at the forefront of the highly skilled gang of combat badasses. After a standard rescue mission in Nepal, Barney is confronted by his CIA handler Church (Bruce Willis) regarding a new mission in Albania. Objective? Retrieve a critical piece of information that is located in the rubble of a crashed plane.

The mission sounds easy and performs as such until the group realizes that they are not the only ones who are looking for this piece. Opposition comes in the form of Jean Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who is after the information for selfish purposes. Things take a turn for the worst when one of the Expendables is executed, and the baddies make off with the content in the safe. Being witnesses to this senseless killing of one of their comrades gives a new alteration to the objective: Kill Jean Villain, and whoever associates with him.

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After my disappointment in the first, I was a little skeptical of the sequel. With the first, all I wanted was some addicting, occasionally humorous, and violent/frenzy action from action stars of yesteryear mixed with well-known ones from the present. While that wasn’t really achieved, The Expendables 2 rectifies many of the previous issues and as a result is much closer to the type of film each installment of this franchise should put out.

Much like the first, the story is just as bare bones this time around. The good guys must take out the bad guys, who have done despicable wrong to one of their crew members. Thrown in is some stuff about plutonium and changing the balance of power somehow, but it is as dumb as it sounds. This time however, the scarce plot is a lot more intentional instead of aiming way too high and being overly serious. It is predicable, and shows its hand clear in who is going to die early on. So yes it is flawed, but it knows this fact this time around, which is actually part of the fun.

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The story just exists for the sake of the action, which is the way it should be this. Right from the start the movie jumps into an extended action scene, and it is as furious as you would want from an opener. There is a bit of a longer lull that occurs early on before the next notable action occurs, and this is kind of a bummer. Really, the first half, while action-featured, is not necessarily action-packed. Once the second half arrives though, nothing but glorious and unbridled mayhem comprise the rest of the movie. It is as entertaining as one could expect, both action wise and humor-wise.

Stallone is removed from the directorial chair this time, replaced by Simon West. West may not be a well-renowned director, but appears to have a better grasp with putting together a better looking film and lighter tone. So many of the scenes this time are captured on a wide scale, not confined to strictly enclosed spaces and/or dark and muddled environments, effectively showing what these stars do best. He also opts for more humor throughout the movie, which is actually funny and delivered at the right times. Sometimes the dialogue is flat-out awful even if intentional, but some of that is part of the joke.

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All of the originals are back again, but more attention is given to the whole gang as opposed to a bromance between Stallone and Statham. It sure isn’t character driven and I wasn’t expecting it to be, but all feel like an important piece to the crew. The originals are good, but the expansion of characters to The Expendables are even better. The first teased us with Willis, Sly, and Arnie in the same room, which was OK but wasted in actuality.

Seeing all three this go around wasting people left and right and exchanging famous one-liners in a hilarious manner is an action movie lover’s dream, and you can tell all three had an amazing time with this. Even Chuck Morris stops on by at convenient times, poking fun at himself and adding to the larger-than-life spectacle. Getting these legends all in the same room delivering justice is almost worth the view itself, and doing it against Jean-Claude Van Damme takes the intensity level to 11. Van Damme’s character is pretty generic, but he’s so charismatic that it will hardly matter.

In short, The Expendables 2 is everything the first should have been: Heavy on the action, light on the tone, and referential in what it is trying to do. Can’t ask for much more from an action film giving homage to the 80’s.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to collider.com, listal.com, and hollywoodreporter.com.

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