Picks and Pans Review: The Running Man

updated 11/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Meryl Streep isn't likely to ask Arnold Schwarzenegger to be her leading man in an intimate romance. Paul Newman probably won't beg for Arnold to star as Brick if he remakes Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Nobody this side of Saturday Night Live will ask him to do Hamlet. But when it comes to knock 'em dead action films, they don't come any better than Mr. S. The plot of this example combines snippets of such tales as Rollerball, 1984 and The 10th Victim. Arnold, a police officer in a totalitarian regime in 2019, is imprisoned when he refuses to massacre unarmed civilians. He ends up on a TV show called The Running Man, in which criminals are released and hunted down by "stalkers" while a studio audience watching a huge monitor whoops with glee and collects door prizes. As the show's sleazy host, Richard Dawson keeps the film from lapsing into cartoony blather by underplaying the part of an MC who trades lives for ratings points. Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac adds a nice turn as a wizened underground leader; veejay Dweezil Zappa portrays a wimpy sort of guerrilla fighter. Steven E. (48 Hrs.) de Souza wrote the script, which is not without wit. Before Arnold goes on the TV show, he's greeted by a man carrying a contract and describing himself as a "court-appointed theatrical agent." At another point, villainous Jim Brown arrives in a puff of smoke. Maria Conchita (Extreme Prejudice) Alonso, who ends up fleeing with Schwarzenegger, sees the imposing Brown and exclaims, "Jesus Christ!" "Guess again," deadpans Arnold. Schwarzenegger's trademark post-combat quips are overdone—after disposing of one stalker in fiery fashion, he shrugs, "What a hothead." There is also a question about where the film stops lampooning TV audiences' thirst for vicarious violence and starts exploiting it. The mayhem is continuous. Questionable as his taste might be, however, director Paul Michael (Band of the Hand) Glaser maintains a vigorous pace. He never asks Arnold to do more than he can, either, which is to say he never asks him to say more than one sentence at a time. Not that anyone goes to Schwarzenegger movies to brush up on diction. Less an actor than a symbol of escapist fantasy, he has, in this case, a vehicle with some thought behind it. Anyway, Arnold has already passed the Hapsburg empire and waltzing among Austria's most famous exports. He's rapidly moving up on the Vienna Boys Choir and those sausages too. (R)

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