A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"The Running Man" is an arcade game for the big screen, a contest in which the player is Arnold Schwarzenegger and the game keeps throwing big bruisers at him. To cast this movie, they called up the reserves of Hollywood heavies. There are villains named Fireball, Captain Freedom, Dynamo, Buzzsaw and Subzero, all thrown at Arnold like new chapters in a superhero comic book, and with true comic justice, each villain dies by his own weapon.
The cast reads like a roll call of action heroes and pro wrestlers: Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, Erland Van Lidth, Professor Toru Tanaka. One after another, they go into battle and are destroyed. This formula would quickly get old if it were not for some sort of gimmick to hold it together, and the movie has just that gimmick in the form of a deadly futuristic TV show named "The Running Man," which is hosted by the veteran TV game show emcee Richard Dawson. Playing himself, he has at last found the role he was born to play.
The time is the next century. America is a totalitarian society. Schwarzenegger is a cop who flies his own helicopter gunship and is ordered to fire on citizens who are rioting for food. Refusing to fire on innocent civilians, he is knocked unconscious, jailed, accused of false charges and assigned to a penal colony. Meanwhile, life goes in in the society, which is numbed by a steady diet of fabricated news. Then one day Arnold and some friends escape from the penal colony, and TV footage of their escape catches the eye of Dawson, TV's top superstar.
The ratings for his show are apparently fairly high (it is beamed on screens the size of billboards to the desperate millions too poor to live indoors). But Dawson wants them higher still, and as he sees Schwarzenegger doing a broken-field run past some inept guards, he decides that Schwarzenegger is the ideal guest for the program, which consists of criminals who are given a chance of freedom if they can defeat the heavily armed killers who are guest stars on the show.