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

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Any Given Sunday: Movie Man Jackson

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On Any Given Sunday, a hero can fall, and a hero can rise. The Miami Sharks, once one of the best franchises in their football league, have fallen on hard times. They aren’t a profitable franchise anymore, and owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) is contemplating moving the team. They’ve lost four straight, and Coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) has just lost his 38 year old quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) to a debilitating injury.

In relief of Cap comes Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), a talented-yet-inexperienced young quarterback. Beamen begins to lead the team to success, but also clashes with D’Amato and his no-nonsense approach. If that weren’t enough, owner Pagniacci may have had enough of the coach’s refusal to adapt to the new age. There’s an unforgiving game played on the gridiron, but the game played outside of it can be just as unforgiving, if not more so.

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When it comes to football movies, there are generally a few classics that are at the top or near the top of every list. Rudy, Friday Night Lights, Remember the Titans, The Longest Yard. One that doesn’t get mentioned as often but in the opinion of yours truly is just as fulfilling, if not more than those aforementioned movies, is the Oliver Stone-directed Any Given Sunday. It’s a movie I loved when I was young, and one I believe gets better and better with age.

Stylistically, like many of Stone’s movies, Any Given Sunday can be very hyperactive, full of cuts, splices, and the like. It is annoying in some movies, but in AGS, the style works wonderfully, in particular, the football scenes. They are so frenetic and fast paced to show that American football, in spite of all of its downtime between plays, is a manic couple of seconds when those plays are going on. Specifically, Stone captures what playing quarterback would be like stepping into a pressure cooker for the first time at the highest level of football. For my money, the opening scene when Foxx’s Beamen arrives to the line of scrimmage for the first time set to Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now is one of my favorites opening scenes of cinema ever, regardless of genre.

Stone doesn’t only focus on the football, though. Any Given Sunday is just as interested in the stuff that occurs outside of the hashmarks as it is inside of them. The business side of football, the locker room side of football, and the personal side of football are all analyzed. In many ways, the issues and ideological clashes Stone brings attention to such as team doctor ethics, old-school pocket quarterbacking v.s. dual-threat quarterbacking, and whether players are nothing more than new slaves for ownership foreshadowed many hot-topic conversations that exist today in football.

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These stories are very compelling. But still, a major issue of the film is its runtime. Not so much due to bloating or information overload, but the random scenes Stone throws in here and there that just feel overindulgent. Spending roughly one full minute seeing players snort cocaine off of escorts, seeing a player lose an eye, and witnessing an offensive lineman having to go to the bathroom urgently make little sense as to why they had to be included.

Everyone does their jobs cast-wise with what their roles ask of them. Coach D’Amato is one of Pacino’s best recent performances, which says a lot about his recent roles when one considers this was released in 1999. Despite the odd wardrobe for a coach, Pacino feels like a guy who has been around the game for a while, seen a lot of things, and is unsure about his place in the game as it becomes more modernized. Of course, his inches monologue is legendary and galvanizing. I’d say, however, that he is equaled or even upstaged by Jamie Foxx, taking on his first real dramatic role as “Steamin” Willie Beamen. Looking the part of the respective athletic position is important for any football movie, and it is easy to see Foxx’s natural athletic ability. But he’s so good next to Pacino, as a good amount of the film is the two characters coming at each other from different viewpoints. Beamen has layers; dynamic yet traditional, arrogant yet rightfully convicted in his skills. Willie Beamen is one of my personal favorite characters in any film, period.

Notable actors include Dennis Quaid as the grizzled quarterback who knows about leading a locker room, LL Cool J as a selfish running back only looking after himself (his character’s clashes with Beamen feel all the more real as Foxx/LL had real issues with one another), James Woods as a questionable-at-best team doctor, Aaron Eckhart as an up-and-coming coordinator, and Cameron Diaz who really impresses as a female owner/general manager who is very much hands-on. Non-actors such as Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown, while not exactly being stretched and for good reason, add to the proceedings and actually give the production an air of legitimacy.

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Any Given Sunday still serves as the truest movie representation of pro football and all of its issues that aren’t confined to the field. It might not be at the consensus very top of the draft board for football movies, but it hits just as hard in the entertainment department, if not harder than, those oft-mentioned movies at the top.

A-

Photo credits go to footballsfuture.com, esquire.com, and bluray.highdefdigest.com.

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