This review is the result of a Netflix crime: I just started my subscription (why has the time to process just trebled?), and this was one of the movies they strongly suggested I watch. Not sure why, but here are my thoughts.
First: in hindsight, the 80es were just as creative as the 70es or 60es, only their innovation was mostly atrociously ugly. Watching The Running Man shouts instantly "1987" at you, what with the women's dress and hairstyle, the cheesy music, the crapola choreography in the dance numbers.
Second: watching any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie shot after The Terminator always has the damaging side effect of exposing you to "memorable quotes," like the iconic Hasta la vista, baby! In moderation, that's not bad, but the screenwriter, the director, and Arnie himself evidently do not know moderation.
Aside from these two main points, the film as a whole was terribly bad. The acting was what you'd expect from an 80es action movie (non-existent), the directing by Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky and Hutch) awful, and the script entirely random. There were several times I thought of just turning the DVD off and prefer sleep over continuing the pain.
You want more of the pain? What about the acting? Well, the cast was made up of Arnie's wrestling and body-building colleagues, and they were a whole lot better than their non-buffed counterparts. Suffice?
On the directing side, PMG has no sense of dramatic tension. In particular, there is a dance number in the middle of the movie that goes on forever and does nothing but expose some seriously food-deprived female flesh to the viewer. There is the shooting of the participants onto the game grid, which is a shot through an illuminated tunnel – goes on forever, pretty to look at the first time, but then there are so many participants, it just gets boring. There is the frequent use of monochromatic shots in blue and red that look plain silly.
The screenwriter, though, caused the most damage. The novel from which the movie is based (same title) is one of the less known Stephen King novels (he wrote it under pseudonym as Richard Bachman). I read it while in high school in Italy and was fascinated by its Orwellian tone and its breadth of scope.
The movie loses most of the dramatic tension: instead of joining the game to afford his daughter's medical bills and stop his wife from prostituting herself, Arnie's character is just thrust into the game as a scapegoat. Instead of being hunted over a period of 30 days, the movie lets him loose for barely a few hours. Instead of visiting a world in ruin, Arnie will have all of 400 city blocks to play with.
In short, a great way to turn an exciting book into a dull movie.