It goes without saying that The Running Man, the Schwarzenegger sci-fi action film adapted from not-Stephen-King’s novel, is a prescient piece of work, predicting both terrible reality television (here more violent and with more game show trappings) and The Hunger Games. Except generally prescience goes hand-in-hand with coherence, and there’s little of that on offer here.
It’s not just that the action is incoherently shot (though, man, is it ever), it’s that the attempted satire is utterly disjointed. This is a gloriously violent movie that rebukes the idea of violence-as-entertainment, and it parodies the criticism of women for their sexual behaviour while hooking up its single female character, Amber (María Conchita Alonso) with her almost-rapist (Schwarzenegger, natch). It’s a biting satire snapping in all the wrong places.
This doesn’t make The Running Man a bad movie, mind. It might not have much to say in the end, but there’s an inarticulate rage here that’s refreshing from films of this era. Its neon-noir, fake-futuristic aesthetic is an exemplar of the best kind of eighties cheese, and Schwarzenegger is as charismatic as ever in full bad-one-liners mode (eg responding with “Guess again,” to an exclamation of “Jesus Christ!”). Perhaps coherency is overrated.