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‘The Running Man’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 20, 1987

Is it enough to stuff Arnold Schwarzenegger into a zip-up monkey suit, surrounding him with light-show effects, smoke and pounding music, and have futuristic bruisers chase him with chainsaws, stilletto hockey sticks and laser weapons?

No. You want to know if "The Running Man" is a good-time macho show, right? Stay at home and watch professional wrestling. Or "Miami Vice" (same director -- Paul Michael Glaser). Sure there's blood spattering and bullets riddling and Big Boys Banging Biceps. But through the dry-ice haze, "Running Man" is surprisingly boring. The filmmakers want to create a futuristic backdrop (Los Angeles, 2019) with serious sci-fi statements about TV as opiate of the masses and the evils of government propaganda. Ptui! on this exposition. Schwarzenegger, as ex-cop Ben Richards, hardly has time to bust heads -- what with all this jabbering and all that jousting with Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso, also in a monkey suit). And in those moments when he's about to splice a cranium or blow a thug sky-high and a sardonic, world-weary wisecrack is called for, screenwriter Steven E. de Souza's word processor wimps out.

The plot sounds better than it is: Ben Richards is framed for murder and goes to jail. He busts out with a buddy (Yaphet Kotto) and a coupla others. But they get caught. Meanwhile, Damon Killian (Richard Dawson) hosts this TV show -- "The Running Man" -- where convicts get a chance at freedom if they beat a gang of psycho-killers. Ratings are low because the convicts get chopped into Hamburger Helper too easily. Damon needs better gladiators, so he cuts a deal with Richards et al. They have to evade the following freaks of Hollywood nature: Dynamo, a Germanic human circuit board who zaps people to death; Subzero, a Japanese fella with a mean slice 'n' dice hockey stick; Buzzsaw, who, in one of the film's more complex and quieter moments, attempts to turn Schwarzenegger into Wiener schnitzel; Captain Freedom, who just uses his human bulk; and the Stalker Fireball (Jim Brown), who cooks with napalm.

But you know what? They're all pans-oids. Arnold hardly gets dirty. There's better tussling and suspense in "Bambi Meets Godzilla."

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