The Running Man (1987) (part 2 of 4)
On the big screen, we see bits of the game show; specifically, host Damon Killian, cleverly played by Family Feud host Richard Dawson. I’ll get to him soon enough, but it’s interesting to note that the film version of Killian is actually a blending of two characters in the novella: The sleazy host, and a network executive who ends up being the main antagonist.
Our trio is approached by Stevie (Dweezil Zappa), a member of the underground resistance that we read about in the opening crawl. As they walk off, we get a bit of exposition about the Running Man show: It’s basically a live version of The Most Dangerous Game, with criminals being hunted down by cartoonish “Stalkers”.
Funnily enough, I think they show a few clips from later in the movie as part of the ad.
In the resistance HQ, our heroes have their explosive collars removed by a guy named Mic, played by Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood. So all we need is for Steve Perry and Pete Townshend to show up, and we’ll have a great rock concert, provided the year is 1975.
As the collars are removed, Weiss exposits about needing to find the signal for the TV Network, so they can broadcast a message, but the hard part is finding it. Well, that and cramming all this exposition into one scene so as not to take any screen time away from Arnold doing his thing.
After Laughlin’s collar is removed and dumped down a hatch (right before it blows up), Richards is up next, and during some back and forth with Mic, we find out that Richards is known as “The Butcher of Bakersfield”. Which has got to be a major deal breaker when trying to pick up chicks.
The next day, Ben parts ways with Laughlin and Weiss, turning down the offer to help them out. He says he’s not interested in politics. Oh man, how ironic is that line nowadays? Either way, Ben leaves and heads for his brother’s apartment in the city.
In downtown, a limo pulls up to the TV Network building. Damon Killian gets out, and is mobbed by throngs of adoring fans. He heads into the lobby and has a chat with his assistant Brenda. Apparently, the Network’s ratings are stagnating. As they head for the elevator, Dawson has an amusing moment where he trips over a custodian’s mop, and then assures the custodian that everything is fine… and then orders him fired as soon as the elevator doors close.
Now there’s a choice premium scumbag!
I should also note Killian’s rather large bodyguard is played by Schwarzenegger mainstay Sven-Ole Thorsen, who’s been in 15 of Arnie’s films. The one near constant for a Sven-Ole Thorsen character is this: He dies bloodily.
Ben gets to his brother’s apartment, only to find no trace of him. He does find women’s clothing, so I’m guessing either the brother doesn’t live here anymore, or he’s recently gotten in touch with his feminine side.
Just as a little aside, am I the only one who can’t look at the above screen capture without thinking of either a tasteless sexual harassment joke about the Governor, or a Village People crack?
Back at the TV station, Killian walks through a control room, where he’s greeted by a flunky played by Kurt Fuller. Fuller has made a decent career for himself… Well, okay, I’ve only seen him in Ghostbusters II and No Holds Barred. If nothing else, 1989 was a prolific year for him. Not good, of course, but prolific.
As Killian enters his office, we cut back to the apartment, where the answer to the “Where’s my brother?” question comes in the form of Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso). Amber enters and turns on the television, and watches an exercise program hosted by apparent Stalker turned superstar Captain Freedom (Jesse “The Body” Ventura. This was Ventura’s second film with Arnold, the first being Predator. He’s fun in both roles, but we’ll get to him later on).
Amber begins doing sit-ups, and can I just say now how ungodly hot Maria Conchita Alonso was in 1987? Seriously, between this and Extreme Prejudice, she comes within inches of making Salma Hayek look plain. Well, almost.
As she exercises, a news report about Ben comes on, and of course, it’s at this point where he surprises her. He’s just gotten out of the shower (relax, he’s dressed) and demands to know where his brother is. Amber tells him she moved in a month ago, and that the former tenant was taken away for re-education.
She makes a run for it, but Ben gets her on the bed, telling her he was framed. This is more or less how the Amber character is used in the novella, though there she’s not quite as likable as Miss Alonso. She’s also introduced pretty deep into the story.
Before we go any further, it’s back to the TV station, where Killian is looking at potential contestants for The Running Man. It’s not going well, as it would seem there’s nobody left who can last an appreciable amount of time. This is one of the main departures from the original text, as the Ben Richards of the novella is just an average man, nowhere near the muscular powerhouse shown here. Killian notices the news report on Richards, and decides he’s found his man.
As our villain begins to pull some strings to get Richards, we find Ben back at Amber’s place, where he’s tied her to her workout bench. Just to give her a little more character, we find out she’s a songwriter for the network, and also has some contraband.
Ben plans on taking her with him to Hawaii. He convinces her to go with him by lifting up the bolted-down bench she’s tied to with one hand. Well, I guess when you’re in a rush, the direct approach is best.
They arrive at the airport, and as bad as Ben’s previous outfit was, it pales in comparison to the ass ugly shirt he has on in this scene, as well as the hat, which probably came with a free bowl of soup. Even in Hawaii, he’d get funny looks from the locals.
They make it to a tram, where Amber tells him she gets airsick. He replies, “Go ahead, it won’t show on this shirt.” As they walk through another area, Amber notices a police officer, and gets away from Ben by stomping on his foot and punching him in the groin. She screams for help, and Ben runs through the crowd and across the tarmac until he’s netted by the cops. Literally.
Amber watches with a rather pensive look on her face, and then it’s back to the TV station at night. Ben has been brought here, and he’s greeted by Killian with the words, “Hi, cutie pie. One of us is in deep trouble.” I’m sure that won’t be repeated later in the movie.
Killian asks Ben to appear on the Running Man show, but is tersely told “Fuck you” by our brawny hero. Killian reveals Weiss and Laughlin have been captured, and will be used as alternates if he refuses.
Left with no other choice, we next see Ben being prepared for the show. Well, implanted with a tracer and given a few injections before being tossed in a cell where he’s given knockout gas, at any rate.
The next day, Amber is back at her apartment watching TV, and a commercial starring Killian airs. To be honest, most if not all of the satirical elements in the movie come from Richard Dawson, and to his credit, he pulls it off perfectly. Of course, he’s basically doing an exaggerated take on his own real-life game show persona, minus the nasty asshole streak. I would hope.
Amber changes the channel to the news, and sees a report on the airport capture, which has been severely edited to make it look like Ben killed a few people while making a run for it. Amber realizes she’s backed the wrong horse, and then the channel goes back to showing a program called Climbing for Dollars, which features a man, a rope, barbed wire fences, and some very pissed off dogs.
Not the best timing for that gag, but I suppose there wasn’t anywhere else they could fit it in.
Back at the station, Richards is assigned a court-appointed theatrical agent who tells him, “It’s time.” And with that, the show begins, with a dance number done by a bunch of models in blue leotards, while in the shanty town, bets are being placed on the outcome of the show. We’ll be cutting back to the shanty town periodically. I won’t mention every time we cut back to it, because we’ll be here all year if I do.
By the way, apologies if my recapping seems choppy here, but the film cleverly edits this part of the movie like an actual game show, which I guess is preferable to it being edited like a frenetic music video.
Outside the studio, the Stalkers are arriving to the delight of the fans, but we’ll get to them in due time. Well, okay, I’ll just mention that the first guy, a rather burly brute named Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch) is shown pushing a fan down, much to the man’s delight. Also, Buzzsaw lifts a motorcycle above his head. Yep, it’s that kind of movie.
While the endless dance number goes on, we cut to Killian’s office, where he tells a makeup man, “Don’t touch the hair!” And then the dance number begins to reach “driving scene in Manos” levels of annoyance, with a bit of Jerry Bruckheimer-esque flashy noisy bombast for flavor. Still, it’s better than the finale of Staying Alive.
Seriously, did the dancers hired for the movie have it in their contracts that their entire number be shown? Sure, the ladies are nice to look at, but I’m writing a goddamn action movie article here, not a dance revue column! Let’s get the lead out!