Guilty Pleasure No. 60: The Running Man (dir by Paul Michael Glaser)

“Killian, here’s your Subzero… now plain zero!”

Uhm, excuse me, Mr. Schwarzenegger, but a man just died.  He probably had a family who just watched you kill him on national television….

Oh well, it happens!  In the role of Ben Richards, Arnold Schwarzenegger kills quite a few people over the course of the 1987 film, The Running Man, but they were all bad.  In fact, when we first meet Ben Richards, he’s a cop who is trying to save lives.  His superiors want him to open fire on a bunch of protestors who simply want enough food to eat.  When Richards refuses to do it, he is framed for perpetrating “the Bakersfield Massacre” and is sent to prison.  When he is recaptured after escaping, he is given a chance to compete on America’s number one game show, The Running Man!  Hosted and produced by Damon Killian (Richard Dawson, oozing smarm in a performance that — in a fair world — would have received Oscar consideration), The Running Man is a show in which prisoners are given a chance to win prizes like a trial by jury or maybe even a pardon.  While the audience cheers and puts down bets, the prisoners are stalked by professional killers like Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch), Dynamo (Erland Van Lidth), Fireball (Jim Brown), and Sub-Zero (Professor Toru Tanaka).  Along with Killian, Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura) provides commentary and analysis on how the game is going.  Ben soon finds himself joined by Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso), who proves herself to be just as tough as he is.

Seen today, The Running Man feels more than a bit prophetic.  Due to worldwide economic collapse, the poor are getting poorer while the rich are getting richer.  The American government has become both increasingly corporate and increasingly authoritarian.  The citizens are entertained and manipulated by “reality” programming.  On camera, Killian is a charismatic host who delivers his lines with faux sincerity and who loves to meet and give away prizes to the public.  (There’s something both undeniably creepy and also rather familiar about the way that Killian sniffs the hair, rubs the shoulders and holds the arms of the audience members to whom he’s speaking.  It’s all very calculated and one gets the feeling that Killian washes his hands as soon as the camera are off of him.)  Behind the scenes, he drinks, smokes, curses, and is full of contempt for everyone around him.  He may not be happy when Ben outsmarts and kills the show’s stalkers but he definitely cheers up when he hears how good the ratings are.  The film is set in 2017, which was 30 years in the future when The Running Man was first released.  Seen today, The Running Man’s 2017 feels a lot like our 2017….

That said, The Running Man is also a big, flamboyant, and undeniably entertaining film.  It’s also surprisingly funny, at times.  Living in a dystopia ahs turned everyone into a quip machine.  None of the bad guys die without Schwarzenegger making a joke about it.  (“Buzzsaw?  He had to split.”  Yes, he did.)  The show’s vapid studio audience, who go from cheering the prospect of witnessing a bloody death to crying when their favorite stalker is killed, is both disturbing and humorous.  (Also memorable is the faux somber dance number that is performed while the show memorializes all the dead stalkers.)  For all the costumed heroes and villains, the film is practically stolen by an older woman named Agnes who becomes Ben Richards’s favorite fan.  The gaming “quads” may be dark and dangerous and full of angry people but they’re also full of advertisements for Cadre Cola.  Dey Young of Rock and Roll High School and Strange Behavior fame has a cameo as Amy, who pays six dollars for a can of Cadre.  (That may seem like a lot for a can of anything but Cadre is the official cola of The Running Man!  Damon Killian endorses it!  And, of course, when The Running Man was produced, the studio was owned by Coca-Cola so the jokes about Cadre’s corporate dominance also serve as a “take that” towards the corporation who put up money for the film.  Either that or Cadre is stand-in for Pepsi.)

It’s easy to compare The Running Man to The Hunger Games films but The Running Man is infinitely more fun, if just because it doesn’t make the mistake of taking itself as seriously as The Hunger Games did.  (Add to that, The Running Man manages to wrap up its story in 90 minutes, whereas The Hunger Games needed four movies.)  Like The Hunger Game, The Running Man is based on a book, in this case a very loose adaptation of one of the pulpy novels that Stephen King wrote under the name of Richard Bachman.  While King said that he enjoyed the film, he also asked that his real name not be listed in the credits because the film had little in common with his book, which is fair enough.  The Running Man may have been inspired by a Stephen King novel but it’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger production through-and-through.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia
  46. Bar Rescue
  47. The Powers of Matthew Star
  48. Spiker
  49. Heavenly Bodies
  50. Maid in Manhattan
  51. Rage and Honor
  52. Saved By The Bell 3. 21 “No Hope With Dope”
  53. Happy Gilmore
  54. Solarbabies
  55. The Dawn of Correction
  56. Once You Understand
  57. The Voyeurs 
  58. Robot Jox
  59. Teen Wolf

Live Tweet Alert: Join #FridayNightFlix for The Running Man!


As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, I am involved in a few weekly live tweets on twitter.  I host #FridayNightFlix every Friday, I co-host #ScarySocial on Saturday, and I am one of the five hosts of #MondayActionMovie!  Every week, we get together.  We watch a movie.  We tweet our way through it.

Tonight, at 10 pm et, I will be hosting the first #FridayNightFlix of 2022!  The movie? 1987’s The Running Man!

If you want to join us this Friday, just hop onto twitter, start the movie at 10 pm et, and use the #FridayNightFlix hashtag!  It’s a friendly group and welcoming of newcomers so don’t be shy.

The Running Man is available on Prime and Paramount!  See you there!

McBain (1991, directed by James Glickenhaus)

In the year 1973, Bobby McBain (Christopher Walken) was an American POW, fighting for his life in a North Vietnamese prison camp that was run by a general so evil that he wore a necklace of human ears.  Luckily, on the last day of the war, McBain was rescued by Roberto Santos (Chick Vennerra).  When Bobby asked how he could ever repay Santos, Santos gave him half of a hundred dollar bill and told him that someday, Santos would give him the other half.  McBain swears that he will be ready when the day comes to get the other half.  I guess he’s like Caine in Kung Fu, waiting for the chance to snatch the pebble from his master’s hand.

15 years later, McBain is a welder in New York.  One day, while sitting in a bar, he watches as Santos is executed on live television after a failed attempt to overthrow the dictator of Colombia.  Shortly afterwards, McBain is approached by Santos’s sister (Maria Conchita Alonzo), who asks McBain to help her finish Santos’s revolution.  McBain tells her a long story about attending Woodstock and then reunites with his Vietnam War buddies, Frank (Michael Ironside!), Eastland (Steve James), Dr. Dalton (Jay Patterson), and Gil (Thomas G. Waites).  After killing a bunch of drug dealers, stealing their money, and harassing Luis Guzman, the gang heads for Colombia.

I wonder how many people have watched this movie over the years with the expectation that it would be a live action version of the famous Rainier Wolfcastle film that was featured in several episodes of The Simpsons.  Unfortunately, this movie has nothing to do with the Simpsons version of McBain.  (Sorry, no “Bye, book.”)  Instead, it’s just another strange and overlong action film from director James Glickenhaus.  The film mixes scene of total carnage with dialogue that often seems to be going off on a totally unrelated tangent, like McBain’s musings about what Woodstock ultimately stood for.  Walken doesn’t seem to be acting as much as he’s parodying his own eccentric image.  Walken takes all of his usual quirks and trademark vocal tics and turns them up to 11 for this movie.

Even though the movie is twenty minutes too long, it still feels like scenes are missing.  Alonzo leaves Colombia on a mule and then is suddenly in New York.  (The mule is nowhere to be seen.)  We don’t actually see Walken recruiting the majority of his team.  Instead, they just show up in his house.  Once the action moves to Colombia, it turns out that overthrowing the government is much simpler than it looks.  While the rebels lay down their lives while attacking the palace, McBain and his crew pretty much stroll through the movie without receiving even a scratch.  Maybe welders should be put in charge of all of America’s foreign policy adventures.  It couldn’t hurt.

With its hole-filled plot and confusingly edited combat scenes, McBain isn’t great but 80s action enthusiasts should enjoy seeing Michael Ironside and Steve James doing their thing.  Others will want to see it just for Christopher Walken’s characteristically odd performance.  He may not be Rainier Wolfcastle but, for this movie, Christopher Walken is McBain.

Horror Film Review: Vampire’s Kiss (dir by Robert Bierman)

Nicolas Cage plays the world’s biggest douchebag in the 1989 film Vampire’s Kiss.

Cage is playing Peter Loew, who is kind of like Patrick Bateman’s less successful cousin.  He’s got a nice apartment in New York City and he wears fairly nice clothes and he has this weird, stuffed-up way of speaking.  By night, Peter spends all of his time at the bars and the clubs, trying to get laid.  During the day, Peter goes to his job as a literary agent, where he sits around in his office and spends most of his time tormenting his secretary, Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso).

Peter has recently been tasked with finding the Heatherton Contract.  It’s a contract from 1963, one that was signed long before either Peter or Alva joined the company.  All Peter knows is that the contract is somewhere in a huge stack of files.  Harold Heatherton wants a copy of the contract so that he can frame it.  Peter wants the contract so that he can advance at his job and make even more money.  Alva just wants to be left alone.

“ALVA!” Peter spends his days yelling from the office.

“I hate my boss!” Alva says as she spend the morning crying in bed.

Yes, Peter is a jerk.  He maintains a toxic work environment.  He’s a misogynist.  He’s the type of asshole who screams at Alva to go find the Heatherton Contract and then stares at her backside as she walks back to her desk.  He’s a terrible human being and he’s steadily getting worse.  That’s because Peter is convinced that he’s turning into a vampire.  There’s even a lengthy scene where he stands in front of a bathroom mirror, moaning that he has no reflection.  Of course, we can see that he absolutely does have a reflection.

In his apartment and his office, he is often visited by Rachel (Jennifer Beals).  Rachel has fangs.  Rachel bites him in the neck.  Rachel sucks his blood.  But is Rachel there or is she a figment of his imagination?  Is he truly a vampire or is he like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho or the lead character in George Romero’s Martin?  He has become so consumed by his fantasies of being an all-powerful monster that he can no longer tell the difference between fantasy and reality?

Vampire’s Kiss is understandably best known for Cage’s demented performance.  Cage bulges his eyes, screams his lines, and spends a good deal of the film walking around with his shoulders hunched up.  This is the film for which Cage famously ate a live cockroach.  It’s undeniably watchable, though I think Cage made the mistake of playing Peter as being obviously unhinged even before he decided that he was a vampire.  The scenes where he obsesses over the Heatherton Contract start out as mildly amusing but become more disturbing as the film progresses and Peter grows more and more deranged.  From the moment that he started to chase the terrified Alva through the office, the film became so unpleasant that I just wanted it to hurry up and end.  On the plus side, Alva does get revenge though I think it would have been more effective (or maybe, just for me, more satisfying) if the film’s final action had been carried out by Alva herself.

Vampire’s Kiss is a film that has quite an enthusiastic cult following.  Having watched it, I can say that I’m not a member of that cult, though I can understand why Cage’s unhinged performance has fans.  The film is about 20 minutes too long and it reveals the truth about Cage’s “vampirism” far too early but, if nothing else, Cage really does throw himself into it.

Review: Predator 2 (dir. by Stephen Hopkins)

Predator 2

Like any successful genre film, Predator would remain in the consciousness of filmgoers during the late 80’s. The film was that popular and successful. This also meant that the studio who produced and released the film were more than happy to try and replicate what made them a lot of money.  So, a sequel was quickly greenlit within the halls of 20th Century Fox.

Yet, despite the success the first film was able to garner despite some major production problems, this time around luck wasn’t with Predator 2. The follow-up film would have different production issues than the first but they would affect the film in the long run.

First off, John McTiernan wouldn’t be on-board to direct the sequel. His back-to-back successes with Predator and Die Hard has suddenly made him a coveted action director. His schedule would keep him from directing Predator 2 as his slate was already full with The Hunt for Red October being his next film. In comes Stephen Hopkins to helm the sequel.

Yet, the biggest blow to the production would be not being able to get Arnold Schwarzenegger to return in the role of Dutch, the sole survivor of the elite rescue team from the first film. As with most stars and sequels, this time it would be over a salary dispute that would keep Arnold from returning so in comes Danny Glover to take on the sequel’s lead role.

Now, Danny Glover has more than pulled his own action film weight with two Lethal Weapon films already under his belt, but in terms of on-screen charisma he would be a major downgrade from the presence Schwarzenegger provided the first film. But Glover was more than game to take on the role of Lt. Harrigan of the LAPD as the setting for the sequel moves from the steaming jungle canopy of Central America to the blistering asphalt and concrete jungle of gang-ridden Los Angeles.

This change in location made for an interesting take as it helped establish some world building that showed these Predators have visited Earth many times in the past and not just in the faraway jungles but more towards areas and places rife with conflict. We learn that it hunts those who have survived the conflicts of the area they’re in. Only the strongest for these extraplanetary hunters.

Unlike, the original film, Predator 2 fails in not having a cast of characters that the audience could empathize and root for. This follow-up is mostly about action and even more gore than the first. Even the opening sequence tries to one-up the jungle shooting scene from the first film, yet instead of shock and awe the sequence just seems loud and busy,

Predator 2 suffers from a lot of that as the film feels more than just a tad bit bloated. The Thomas brothers (Jim and John) who wrote the original film return for the sequel but were unable to capture lightning in a bottle a second time around. Where the first film was very minimalist in it’s narrative and plot, the sequel goes for the throw everything in but the kitchen sink approach. We have warring drug gangs, inept police leadership, secretive government agencies with their own agendas.

What does work with Predator 2 and has made it into a cult classic as years passed was the very worldbuilding I mentioned earlier. We learn a bit more of this predator-hunter. While some comes as exposition from Gary Busey’s special agent role Peter Keyes, the rest comes from just seeing the new look of this particular Predator courtesy of special effects master Stan Winston.

The biggest joy for fans of the films comes in an all-too-brief scene showcasing the trophy case of the Predator inside it’s spacecraft. Within this trophy case are the skulls of the prey it’s hunted and killed. One skull in particular would ignite the imagination of scifi action fans worldwide. It’s a skull of a xenomorph from the Alien franchise. It made fans wonder if the two films were part of a larger tapestry. Both properties were owned by 20th Century Fox, so there was a chance and hope that the two meanest and baddest alien creatures on film would crossover together.

It would be many, many years before such a team-up would happen. Even when it finally did fans of the franchises would be let down with what they get after waiting for over a decade.

Predator 2 could be seen as trying to make lightning hit the same patch twice or it could be seen as a quick cash grab by a studio seeing a potential franchise. Both are true and without its two biggest stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McTiernan, returning to reprise their roles for the sequel the film was already behind the eight-ball before filming began.

While the follow-up had some interesting new ideas that helped round out the Predator as one of film’s greatest onscreen villains, it also failed to capitalize on those ideas in a creative way. There’s some good in Predator 2, but way too much baggage and too much bad to have it live up to the success and popularity of the original.

A Movie A Day #337: Colors (1988, directed by Dennis Hopper)

Los Angeles in the 80s.  Beneath the California glamour that the rest of America thinks about when they think about L.A., a war is brewing.  Bloods vs Crips vs the 21st Street Gang.  For those living in the poorest sections of the city, gangs provide everything that mainstream society refuses to provide: money, a chance to belong, a chance to advance.  The only drawback is that you’ll probably die before you turn thirty.  Two cops — veteran Hodges (Robert Duvall) and rookie McGavin (Sean Penn) — spend their days patrolling a potential war zone.  Hodges tries to maintain the peace, encouraging the gangs to stay in their own territory and treat each other with respect.  McGavin is aggressive and cocky, the type of cop who seems to be destined to end up on the evening news.  With only a year to go before his retirement, Hodges tries to teach McGavin how to be a better cop while the gangs continue to target and kill each other.  The cycle continues.

Colors was one of the first and best-known of the “modern gang” films.  It was also Dennis Hopper’s return to directing, 17 years after the notorious, drug-fueled disaster of The Last Movie.  Hopper took an almost documentary approach to Colors, eschewing, for the most part, melodrama and instead focusing on the day-to-day monotony of life in a war zone.  There are parts of Colors that are almost deliberately boring, with Hodges and McGavin driving through L.A. and trying to stop trouble before it happens.  Hopper portrays Hodges and McGavin as being soldiers in a war that can’t be won, combatants in a concrete Vietnam.  Colors is nearly 20 years old but it holds up.  It’s a tough and gritty film that works because of the strong performances of Duvall and Penn.  The legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler vividly captures the harshness of life in the inner city.  Actual gang members served as extras, adding to the film’s authentic, documentary feel.  Among the actors playing gang members, Don Cheadle, Trinidad Silva, Glenn Plummer, and Courtney Gains all make a definite impression.  In a small but important role, Maria Conchita Alonso stands in for everyone who is not a cop and who is not a gang member but who is still trapped by their endless conflict.

One person who was not impressed by Colors was future director John Singleton.  Boyz ‘n The Hood was largely written as a response to Colors‘s portrait of life in South Central Los Angeles.