Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Running Man

I think this may well be the ultimate video game movie. This is not to say that it is the best video game movie out there (I’m holding fast to the surprisingly entertaining Silent Hill for that one), but it does most perfectly capture the idiotic action mindset of the old NES games better than any else I’ve seen.

Right from the start, you know you’re dealing with a video game. While a normal dystopian future sci-fi flick would generally try to offer up some attempt at an in depth explanation as to how this nightmarish future world got the way it is, here we just get a text crawl explaining that food and oil supplies are depleted and now the government is evil. Cue the Capcom logo. We are then treated to hero cop Schwarzenegger refusing a direct order to open fire on a crowd of civilians, and then being jailed on falsified charges. After a bit more rigamarole, he and his cohorts are tossed into The Running Man, a live game show where prisoners of the state fight goons with super-powered weaponry in the hopes of winning prizes, or even freedom. Here is where the film manages to simultaneously be at its best and at its worst. Its worst comes from the sheer repetitiveness of the game show: each of the villainous thugs is announced, appears to menace Schwarzenegger and co. with his wacky new weapon, and then is obligingly killed with that same weapon. Then it’s on to the next one for a repeat performance. It’s not unlike watching a friend blast his way through a game of Mega Man. While it’s entertaining enough, and while some of the villains are quite amusing (my personal favorite being Sub Zero, who, as an Asian hockey player with a razor sharp stick and exploding pucks, is much more interesting and amusing than the one from Mortal Kombat), it just starts getting old toward the end, as they fail to change up the material enough to keep it fresh.

What mainly keeps it all together during this period is a delightful performance by Richard Dawson, fresh off of Family Feud and essentially repeating his act there as the Running Man’s host. He spends the entire time chain smoking, walking with the careful steps of someone who is quite drunk but doesn’t think anyone else has figured it out yet, and just shamelessly steals every last scene he’s in. He makes the movie a good deal more entertaining than it otherwise would have been, even if they don’t utilize him nearly enough for my tastes.

Still, he is used a fairly good amount, and the action scenes (the reasons most people would be watching this film, naturally) are pretty good, at least until they all start blurring together. However, the film as a whole really just starts to drag somewhat by the end, and also takes a while to get going, which isn’t a particularly winning combination for a film. It’s good enough for a watch or two, but it doesn’t really stack up well to Schwarzenegger’s other 80s action films. Go check out Predator or the Terminator or Total Recall instead, if you want to see him blasting his way through a science fiction scenario. Unless this happens to pop up on TV sometime, don’t waste your energy.

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