In the future, helicopter pilot Richard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is framed for the massacre of innocent civilians. As punishment he’s entered into The Running Man, the hottest new gameshow where competitors battle for their lives against assorted villains, like Robot Wars with humans. Homo wars?
Under Paul Michael Glaser’s direction the tacky TV world is brought to life, but whether the tackiness is deliberate or not, the effect is a visually ugly film with cheap looking costumes and a murky, badly aged aesthetic. Arnie hams about in his Turboman costume from Jingle All the Way on sets which look like a 90s lazerquest game.
While we’ve criticised other Arnie films for their lack of humour, The Running Man goes out of its way to create quotable Arnie lines, but they’re as forced as they are witless, not helped by Schwarzenegger’s indifferent delivery. There’s also an inexplicable romantic sub-plot in which a random woman (María Conchita Alonso) falls for Richard and takes up his cause after he ties her to a bed and threatens to kill her.
It’s a shame the film isn’t better made, because it gets in some clever and surprisingly prescient ideas, including predicting round-the-clock reality TV. In one scene ITV gameshow and harbinger of the apocalypse Release the Hounds is accutately anticipated in a show which has contestants climb a rope above snarling guard dogs. But ultimately there are much better films which address the same themes, and it’s hard to escape the feeling The Running Man is running on fumes.