The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘The Running Man’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “The Running Man.”

The info:

The Movie: “The Running Man”

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson

Director: Paul Michael Glaser

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A wrongly convicted man must try to survive a public execution gauntlet staged as a game show.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 62 percent

Our take:

Brown: A week ago, we worried as Marines-turned-terrorists threatened the city of San Francisco with the Ninja Turtles’ ooze in “The Rock.” And this week, we handle man’s deadliest game, “The Running Man.” A look at the ‘80s dystopian vision of … 2017.

An age where TV ratings dictate all! A world where the President of the United States of America has an agent! An age where state-run media is the norm!

The makers of this movie had a time machine, didn’t they?

While I try to regain my grip on reality, Froemming, take us briefly into your mind while watching this movie (somehow) for the first time.

Froemming: Well, this film certainly had some sort of line on knowing just how bat (REDACTED) crazy 2017 would be. Aside from what you brought up, I was also shocked to see we also have not one, but two future governors in this film: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ran California for some reason, and Minnesota’s greatest governor, Jesse Ventura!

We are through the looking glass with this film, people.

As I collect myself from just how creepily accurate this film was of our time, Brown why don’t you set us up with what this film is about.

Brown: Well, I had to write down the entire opening text when I watched this, just to truly let it sink in how close this is to real foreshadowing, at the risk of sounding like someone on InfoWars:

“By 2017, the world economy has collapsed. Food, natural resources and oil are in short supply. A police state divided into paramilitary zones, rules with an iron hand.

Television is controlled by the state and a sadistic game show called “The Running Man” has become the most popular program in history. All art, music and communications are censored. No dissent is tolerated and yet a small resistance movement has managed to survive underground.

When high-tech gladiators are not enough to suppress the people’s yearning for freedom… More direct methods become necessary.”

At least there’s no mention of a wall?

Doing my best to stop political commentary, we move on to our protagonist, Ben Richards, who is a police officer in Bakersfield, California, which is in the midst of a food riot. How do we know this? Because of (REDACTED) dots on a computer screen. Atari was more visually attractive than this computer they use. Ben is told to gun down all the rioters, which he refuses, and now we get ourselves a fight in a helicopter which ends with Ben restrained and hit in the face with the butt of a rifle. If movies have taught me anything, a shot to the head from the butt of a gun is more effective than a Mike Tyson uppercut.

And now, our boy is in prison.

Froemming: With the scraggliest, saddest beard I have seen in a long time. Arnold can do many things well, such as lifting heavy things, terminating, commandoing, kindergarten copping, but growing a beard is not one of them.

Brown: Schwarzenegger can be Mr. Olympia and compare lifting weights to reaching the peak of the sexual experience. But he can’t grow a beard. For the first time, I relate to Arnie.

Froemming: It is probably the only thing I can do better than Arnold.

Anyway, it is 18 months after Ben made his moral protest of not gunning down citizens starving for food and he is in a detention zone. He and a ragtag group of prisoners (one being Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac fame, and this being the late 80s he probably hadn’t blown the entirety of his vast fortune on nose candy, just most of it) plot an escape. The prisoners have those neck bombs from every dystopian sci fi movie ever made, but because these guys have a guy who wears glasses (which obviously means he is a computer wiz!) they figure out how to crack the code and not have their heads explode like poor Chico did during the escape scene.

Brown: OK, this prison escape bugged the hell out of me. They shoot at guards and the find a code to shut down the head-exploding grid. But when they enter the code, they talk about how someone is hacking in and resetting the grid, re-arming the thing. And you can see the guard re-arming the grid IN PLAIN SIGHT. You have guns, why not shoot this guy? Instead, you just keep putting in the code in vain and watch as Chico gets antsy and runs before pulling a “Scanners” with his cranium.

Even more baffling, all Ben can muster is an inquisitive look like someone let out a stale fart as he watches a fellow inmate’s HEAD EXPLODE.

Finally, a great way to make my head hurt is with Ben (known to the public as the “Bakersfield Butcher”) RETURNING to Bakersfield to find his brother.

Guys, go meet up in Arizona or Nevada. Maybe stay out of California.

Froemming: A quick aside, at this point they make it clear Ben doesn’t want to be a part of the resistance, he isn’t interested in politics and whatnot. He just escaped with these guys because…whatever, let’s move this along.

Brown: They’re a means to an end for him. He’s selfish. … That’s all I got.

Froemming: Ben goes to his brother’s apartment only to find a woman who is basically only in this movie because someone probably pointed out that there should probably be a female lead in this. I say that because Amber Mendez is painfully underwritten in this film and feels like they put the character in as an afterthought. Which is a shame because I would have liked a character that isn’t roided out or spouting puns non-stop that is also interesting.

So, Ben decides he is going to use Amber’s travel pass to escape California (which he didn’t need to get back to Bakersfield?) and brings her along for reasons? Look, the travel passes don’t seem to have any personal information on them, they just tell the doofus security guards they can travel.

Brown: I mean, Amber does prove to be useful later on when she unveils that Ben Richards did not kill anyone in Bakersfield (because TV studios keep unedited footage of a massacre that would be sure to incite an uprising and all).

Two appearances we can’t just gloss over.

First, (REDACTED) Dweezil Zappa is the guy that greets Ben and the other two guys when the break out of prison. That has to be the most random cameo I’ve seen in a long time.

Then, the former Governor of our home state, Jesse Ventura, as Captain Freedom, sells cardio workout tapes that Amber is watching. At least this has some bearing on the plot because we hear about him being one of the all-time great stalkers in “The Running Man” TV show. And Jesse Ventura is sporting a Hall of Fame worthy mustache and wig. I want a still from his appearance here framed in my house.

Froemming: The only thing better than Ventura’s mustache and wig is when Ben is dressed as a goofy tourist at the airport with Amber. He looks less like a muscle-filled killing machine and more like someone asking for directions to the beach in any town in Florida.

But Ben’s freedom is not to last long. We have to jump back a little and introduce our game show host, Damon Killian (played perfectly by real life game show host Richard Dawson). Killian needs some fresh blood for his show, because it is getting stale.

This brings me to my biggest gripe about the movie: Ratings.

The government controls all media, this is a police state, why the (REDACTED) would ratings matter? This is just (REDACTED) stupid.

But, long story short, Damon sees the escape footage of Ben and gets the law on his trail because he wants him on his show. They find him after Amber (*cough* NARC! *cough*) sells him out at the airport.

Brown: Well, she’s being held hostage, so I get it. And to be fair, Ben is an idiot. He tries to escape the authorities by running onto the tarmac at the airport. Dude, in the terminal, you got obstacles to get in the way of the law. On the tarmac? Nothing but the occasional plane, pal. You wanted to get caught. You deserved to get caught for that.

After our game-show host Killian calls the Secretary of Defense and the President’s agent, they agree to let Ben get put on “The Running Man.” So, we get a montage of Ben getting physical tests done and getting gassed before showtime.

Now, why does Ben need to be tested? The whole idea is to kill him. Is someone going to be like, “Mr. Richards, you have elevated liver enzymes. We cannot let you compete tonight.” No. You’re going out against a competitive executioner.

Then, the weirdest interaction in the movie: As Ben is escorted to the stage of the show, he sees Amber and I assume one of her co-workers. And Ben is glaring at Amber. Then, the friend says, and I quote: “Boy, lucky he didn’t kill you, too. Or rape you and kill you. Or kill you, then rape you.” I mean, what the hell? Honestly.

Froemming: One thing I want to point out that I can see happening in the near future: Ben gets a court appointed theatrical agent instead of a lawyer.

Now, the reason Ben agrees to be on “The Apprentice” “The Running Man” is because Killian blackmails him with his escape buddies. He says he will thrown them into the certain death of the game if he refuses (again, police state, there wouldn’t be an option). So, Ben decides to save those two pals of his he barely knew and agrees to be on the show.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I think I was able to smell the vodka fumes emanating out of Richard Dawkins’ drunk body the whole movie.

Brown: After Ben STABS A LAWYER WITH A PEN, he is sent down a chute in a rickety cart and is escorted into the arena for “The Running Man.” Of course, he does this after telling Killian that “I’ll be back.” You’re quoting your own movies, Arnie. Who are you, Axl Rose sampling yourself in “Chinese Democracy?”

And because the TV show is pretty much the Nintendo video game “Mega Man,” each section is a themed level featuring a boss. The first boss Ben and his cohorts encounter is Subzero.

Froemming: This is what I thought when they said Subzero.

Brown: Excuse me, it’s Professor Subzero. And this may be the craziest thing in the movie because the actor who plays Subzero is credited as Professor Toru Tanaka. Turns out, he may not have actually been a professor. It was a pro wrestling name. And my day was ruined upon reading that.

Subzero is not the ninja we’ve all come to know in love in arcade cabinets in the ‘90s. Instead, it’s some pudgy guy that looks like Oddjob from “Goldfinger” and he has an ice hockey theme. Subzero’s true enemy must be above-freezing temperatures because his ice rink will melt.

Froemming: Subzero’s true enemy is critical thinking and using his eyes, because Ben and the gang take him out with some razor wire and a plot from a “Tom & Jerry” cartoon.

This, obviously, is not what Killian had in mind (I thought it was, because he wanted to spice up his show for those non-existent ratings). Subzero is the first stalker to be killed on the show.

Brown: Well, this leads to the best worst Arnold one-liner ever: “Here is Subzero. Now, plain zero.”

I gave that line the most sarcastic slow clap I could give. A dramatization:

Meanwhile, Amber finds the raw Bakersfield footage to expose the government from the media’s very dishonest FAKE NEWS, only to be captured by the folks in the TV studio.

And because we need MORE stakes in this movie, besides a rebellion and Ben trying to survive a killer game show, Amber is thrown into “The Running Man,” complete with snazzy ADIDAS jump suit. She gets thrown into the show under the guise that she’s Ben’s lover and that she cheated on college exams. This is how Betsy DeVos will fix the educational system: Good grades, or “Running Man.”

Froemming: Not only that, we have two stalkers in the game now: Buzzsaw and Dynamo, the former being a badass with a giant saw and the latter being a fat guy who can sing.

You can’t make this (REDACTED) up, people.

Brown: OK, something I don’t get in this movie. Buzzsaw is credited as last year’s champion. OK, I get that. He killed the most convicts in the last season. But throughout, you hear about All-American stalkers on “The Running Man.” How many stalkers are there? How are there All-American stalkers. Are there All-Conference stalkers. Is there a minor-league stalker system?

As someone who follows sports for a living, this was just confusing as all hell.

Froemming: As someone who barely has a passing knowledge of sports, it didn’t bother me in the slightest.

With the stalkers on the prowl (Dynamo probably getting ready to sing them to death?), the glasses guy sees that they can get a link to the rebellion via doohickeys (technical term) in the game. Also, something about “access codes.” This was lost on me because I watched Buzzsaw get cut in half from the groin up from Ben, which I immediately thought of this:

Dynamo, though, cuts the nerdy guy with glasses down with electricity. Guys, does Ben have to do everything around here?

Brown: If the point is to kill the convicts, Buzzsaw and Dynamo fail miserably because they are the least discreet stalkers ever. You can hear Buzzsaw a mile away because he wields a (REDACTED) chainsaw and throws it around like Leatherface!. Meanwhile, Dynamo is a (REDACTED) opera singer and he wears Chris Jericho’s (REDACTED) Lite Brite jacket. At least Subzero stalked people in a dimly-lit ice rink.

Now, right about the time Dynamo kills Weiss (one of our forgettable prison guys), she memorizes the code he discovered to take over the network’s satellite feed. This pays off later.

But first, violence! Buzzsaw gets… well, buzzsaw’d. And Dynamo just falls over in his flimsy go-cart. But instead of killing Dynamo, Ben says that he won’t kill someone in cold blood. Umm, tell that to the prison guards, Subzero and Buzzsaw!

With the crowd depressed, Killian tries to change the game and makes an offer to Ben, leading to the greatest Arnold one-liner ever. I’ll let you set it up, Froemming.

Froemming: Well, let’s just say Ben is not in the mood to think about contracts and being America’s Next Top Stalker and gives Killian the greatest line Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever said in his entire life: “You cold-blooded bastard! I’ll tell what I think about it. I live to see you eat that contract! But I hope you leave enough room for my fist because I’m going to ram it into your stomach and BREAK YOUR GODDAMN SPINE!”

Where is Arnold’s (REDACTED) Academy Award for that?

Now, Killian has to send in the best, and that is Fireball — a man whose gimmick is a flame thrower. Another non-stealthy theme for a job where one is supposed to be stalking folks.

Brown: And Fireball is played by James Brown, the greatest running back in NFL history. And he is, in my opinion, the lamest of the stalkers. SAD!

Also, your gimmick is using a flamethrower and using extreme heat… but, Fireball wears chainmail? Dude, that is not fire resistant. In fact, the last thing I want to wear if I’m surrounded by thousands of degrees of heat is metal on my skin.

As Fireball chases down Ben and Amber (before being lit on fire himself by Ben), we find out that last year’s winners of “The Running Man” are chilling out on the bench in Zihuatanejo with Andy Dufresne and Red enjoying life. They are, in fact, dead and decaying on set.

Killian is panicking, so they decide to make it look like Ben lost by doctoring footage of Captain Freedom offing Ben and Amber in hand-to-hand combat. It dawned on me here that A. Jesse Ventura looks like Mike Haggar from the video game “Final Fight,” and B. Jesse Ventura is entirely inconsequential to this movie.

Froemming: Well, he doesn’t want to go and fight a guy who’s taken out three stalkers and turns down lucrative media contracts. That is an unstable person right there, capable of anything. Very sad.

Ben and Amber are somehow taken to the resistance’s hideout (I really have no idea how this happened, I was baffled at this point) where we once again meet Mick Fleetwood not playing thunderous drums as Stevie Nicks sings “Gold Dust Woman,” but leading the resistance. Here Ben and Amber see the #FakeNews of their deaths by a very #Dishonest and #Unfair news media.

But they fight the lies with the truth, as they hijack the video link and show the world Ben Richards is not a killer, with the unaltered video that Amber hid.

Brown: Yes! The video shows that Ben Richards isn’t a killer, but three hours of “The Running Man” TV show has proved he kills without remorse. Buzzsaw had a family, I imagine!

So with the TV station exposed, Ben and the resistance kill even more people by starting a firefight with the state police. We even get another Dweezil Zappa appearance as he barges into the production room and says “Don’t touch that dial.”

This movie was written by an 11-year-old.

Also, when did Amber become proficient with an uzi? And when they meet up the resistance, where did Ben and Amber get new clothes? Arnie is (REDACTED) huge. You don’t just find clothes fit for a muscle monster just sitting around.

This isn’t making sense, Froemming!

Froemming: You know what doesn’t make any (REDACTED) sense? About 90 percent of this movie!

Also, this is a story written by Stephen King.

Brown: It all makes sense then! Copious amounts of cocaine.

Froemming: It was the 1980s and Mick Fleetwood is in this. That was never a mystery to me.

Anyway, Ben is now after Killian, who has fallen from grace and respect for somehow (REDACTED) up a game show that was rigged in the government’s favor.

And Killian’s bodyguard refuses to help him once Ben confronts him. Also, his bodyguard is played by the actor who was La Fours in “Mallrats,” which gave me a good chuckle.

Brown: The bodyguard walks off and abandons Killian because he wants to score some steroids. That is a painfully ‘80s moment.

The way Ben decides to do away with Killian is by placing him in one of the “Running Man” carts and shoving him down the chute. But, when it reaches the bottom, the cart goes out of control, launches into the air and explodes behind a cola billboard. Disregarding why the thing exploded, how did the cart not get slowed down? It’s not like Ben and the rest of the crew met the same fate. Also, one-liners aplenty.

Froemming: The explosion came from the copious amounts of booze in Richard Dawson’s bloodstream meeting an open flame.

Question: What movie had more Arnold puns, this or “Batman and Robin?”

Brown: “Batman and Robin.” You could make a Wu-Tang Clan double album with the amount of puns and rhyming Arnie did in that movie.

Well, I say let’s put on our tracksuits and head to recommendations.


Brown: Oh my god, yes. This is quintessential ‘80s Arnold schlock. I enjoy this more than “Commando” and maybe more than “Predator.” It’s not quite “Total Recall,” but it is still a fun movie all around. Expect to be dumber after watching it.

Froemming: Oh yeah. This is just a stupid fun movie. I say watch it.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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