A camp, incredibly cheesy and dated '80s movie with Schwarzenegger, yet it's still a lot more fun than RAW DEAL. If you wanted one film that epitomised the cheesiness of the '80s then this would be a good film to look at. Although the title is taken from a Stephen King story (writing under his usual Richard Bachman pseudonym), this film actually succeeds in ripping off Joe D'Amato's ENDGAME and other Italian post-apocalyptic movies; it's not often that American films rip off their Italian counterparts so this makes an exception.
In this particular futuristic world, class is divided by those who work for the government and those who don't (and live lives of grime in the streets below). Into this world comes Arnie, who is betrayed by his employers and thrown into a prison camp. Prisoners have a metal necklace which explodes if they try to escape, leading to a cool exploding head scene a la SCANNERS. Obviously the makers of FORTRESS liked this idea as they used a similar one in their film, except the explosive was in the stomach instead of the neck. Of course, being the hulking muscular bloke that he is, Arnie does manage to escape before being unfortunately recaptured on an airport runway. Here, after a slow start, the fun begins.
The incredibly slimy Richard Dawson plays Killian, a megalomaniac game show host who wants Arnie for his show. Arnie is forced into submission, thrown into the pit with a couple of his fellow escapees, and must battle a string of amusingly-named and even more amusingly-attired villains. Eventually, he beats the system, exposes the truth, infiltrates the television show and wipes out all of the bad guys in time for a cheesy happy ending. What more could you want? A little intelligence perhaps? Nope, sorry, you've come to the wrong place. This is out-and-out dumb entertainment. Sure, there is the occasional glimpse of intelligence (I liked the idea of previous "winners" who supposedly went to live in Hawaii, but whose corpses are found rotting in an underground room) but for the majority of it, this film just consists of out-and-out action.
Schwarzenegger here indulges in his cheap, predictable one-liners (as in COMMANDO) which I still manage to get a kick out of. Maria Cochita Alonso is the female lead and lends some Latin spirit to the proceedings, with her agreeably-tough female fighter not having to get rescued too often by Arnie. Old hand Yaphet Kotto stars as Arnie's pal, and while it's sad to see him in a tight bodysuit, his presence nonetheless manages to upgrade the film a little. I've never seen him looking so out of place though. However, it is the cast who make up the bad guys who are of the most interest. Aside from Dawson's slimy game show host, we have blaxploitation star Jim Brown as "Fireball", who ends up igniting himself; Professor Toru Tanaka as "Subzero", who gets strangled with barbed wire, Gus Rethwisch going way over the top as "Buzzsaw", who gets sliced in two between the legs (ouch!) and finally Jesse Ventura (who's now gone political, believe it or not) as "Captain Freedom", who isn't really an adversary but who just stands around being annoying.
The action scenes pass the time, but lack finesse. It's just a case of "point the camera and shoot", although Arnie fighting is always good for a chuckle. I thought the ending to be a bit lacklustre too, but that may be down to budget constraints. One thing I did like was the set design, which convincingly creates a grime-strewn future world full of crumbling buildings, decaying rubbish and the like. At least it looks good. THE RUNNING MAN is definitely worth watching to see what kind of films they made in the '80s, but the Italian films that inspired this are even funnier AND more cheesy, if that's even possible.