Last week the president-elect of the United States went on Twitter and ridiculed Arnold Schwarzenegger over poor Nielsen ratings for “The Celebrity Apprentice.” In response, the former Governor of California wished the best of luck to our new commander in chief and uploaded a video of himself reading a passage from Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address. Surreal as this exchange may have seemed for anyone who grew up in the '80s — or really, to anyone at all — it wasn’t the first time Schwarzenegger faced-off against a tacky game show host with authoritarian tendencies.
Ah-nald’s comically prescient cult favorite “The Running Man” screens this Friday and Saturday night as part of the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s After Midnight program. Loosely based on a book by Stephen King, the dystopian satire begins in 2017, when after an economic collapse everyone becomes obsessed with crummy reality game shows. (How far-fetched.) The most popular is “The Running Man,” where criminals compete for pardons while being stalked by gladiators in a citywide arena. Schwarzenegger stars as a wrongly convicted ex-cop who uncovers the nefarious behind-the-scenes machinations of the show’s sinister host, played with great, hammy brio by “Family Feud"'s Richard Dawson.
One of those movies that’s a lot of fun to watch without being particularly good, “The Running Man” is a chintzy-looking affair that gets by on stunt casting and a killer concept. Released in the fall of 1987, the film couldn’t help but suffer from comparisons with that summer’s previous hunted-Schwarzenegger picture “Predator,” as well as “RoboCop,” which had just pulled off the whole futuristic consumerist satire thing with considerably more sophistication. Viewed today it’s a charmingly junky B-picture with the kind of limited production values Schwarzenegger was already outgrowing. Indeed, the Austrian Oak had few kind words for director Paul Michael Glaser — who’s probably best known as Starsky on TV’s groovy cop show “Starsky and Hutch,” but who also later went on to direct “Kazaam,” the 1996 film that starred Shaquille O’Neal as a genie.
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Dawson’s sly, self-mocking performance elevates the material, bringing the louche, creepy-uncle energy with which he leered at female contestants on his aforementioned show. The picture is amusingly cast all around, featuring Jim Brown and Jesse Ventura (making that two future Governors in this movie) as gladiators while Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa play underground revolutionaries.
Go see “The Running Man” this weekend and breathe a sigh of a relief that 2017 didn’t turn out quite as badly as the film predicted. Or at least it hasn’t yet.
If you go:
Jan 13 & 14, 11:59 p.m.
Coolidge Corner Theater
290 Harvard St., Brookline