Released the same year as Predator, when Arnie's hot streak was starting to heat up, The Running Man has more in common with his earlier lower budget efforts like Commando. However, The Running Man had a higher budget than Predator, not that you'd know it when comparing the two movies. Predator's one location of mainly jungle probably helped keep costs down, but I think it's the uncinematic directing style of Paul Michael Glaser (Starskey from Starskey and Hutch) that makes everything look a little cheaper than it should.
However, with a certain amount of cheapness comes a certain amount of nastiness. And in this regard, The Running Man delivers.
It is the year 2017, it is the future...
The film takes place in 2017, and it always gives me a chuckle when time catches up with the year that science-fiction movies are set in, and real life ends up being nothing like what the movie depicts. But, like I said in my Soylent Green review, it's not actually that big of a deal. The minutiae are less important than the bigger picture. And even less important in The Running Man than in, for example, the 2019 set Blade Runner. Because primarily, The Running Man is an action movie. A very silly action movie jam packed with amusing quips from Arnie.
In this next clip, we get two Arnie one liners! One before the bad guy's death, and one after, both of them contextually amusing...
(note: some spoilers, but let's face facts, there ain't no way the bad guys are coming out of this one alive with Arnie going up against them!)
Here, Subzero becomes "Plainzero"...
And so it goes on. If you want basic plot details, America has become a corrupt totalitarian police state in which Arnie is a copper who disobeys orders when told to shoot on innocent civilians, including women and children.
"Aaall they waan iz foood and waater faw gad's sake!" Arnie says.
Quite what has brought him to this sudden change of heart is not clear. Is it his first day on the job? Didn't he know he was working for an evil police state? Who knows? It's just a page in the script designed to get us to the next few pages of the script, which is Arnie in prison, Arnie busting out of prison, and then Arnie being placed as a contestant in "The Running Man". Mind you, between the gunfights, the film has some interesting things to say about "fake news", drawing parallels with the political situation going on in the US (with similar propaganda now creeping into other countries).
Is it really about the blood and guts?
Like I said earlier, the film has a certain amount of nastiness. By that, I mean, a lot of nastiness, typical of the R-rated blockbusters of the nineteen-eighties (RoboCop was released in the same year). Sure, some people might think blockbusters are a lot better these days with their super cool CGI FX and zippy camerawork: good wholesome fun in which no-one gets their balls ripped apart by a chainsaw. But whilst the gore is fun in The Running Man, mainly because it's always undercut by a humourous one liner, it's not actually about the blood and guts. I don't think it ever has been, not fully.
Partly, it's about honesty. It's about knowing that if a guy gets garrotted with barbed wire, there's gonna be blood, and not being afraid to show it. In today's blockbusters, there's something a bit weird and creepy and wrong about the bloodless corpses that heroes leave in their wake. Some show the gruesome bullet wounds but then shy away from the blood which can look even weirder.
But mostly, it's about money. Blood and guts back then seemed to sell tickets, so blood and guts is what the public got. Ironically, the very premise of The Running Man. But since then, violence in movies has become sanitized, something I touched on in my Hunger Games review. These days, we all know why movie studios do it. A lower rating means they can catch more punters in their net. More punters equals more potential cash. And in these days of piracy and competing mediums such as TV, movie studios need to seize every opportunity to rake back the dollars. Especially on summer blockbusters with huge budgets.
A warm, cozy feeling
But worry not. No matter how much they drain the blood and gore from modern day movies, we'll still have films like The Running Man to look back upon with fondness. Not to mention it's many friends from the nineteen-eighties and nineteen-nineties: RoboCop, Die Hard, the list is endless.
Yep, in The Running Man, when Buzzsaw gets his ball bag sliced in two by his own chainsaw, I had tears in my eyes. And not just because I felt his pain. Because these were the good old days. When extreme violence was tempered by a funny one liner.
And it's also funny how films that probably caused a certain amount of hysteria when they were released, can now instill a warm glow of nostalgia, and recall memories of happier, simpler times.