The Running Man
This great nightmare is founded on the simple proposition that film footage may be arranged so as to convey the exact opposite of the truth it records.
Jesse Ventura’s comical performance raises the level of satire to a fine point. Schwarzenegger’s bearded internal exile briefly evokes a U.S. general whose name was Ulysses.
The good Washington Post critic liked it, the bad one thought the hero wasn’t roughed up enough. Ebert made up his mind halfway through that it was a video game.
The vision of L.A. is Lang’s Metropolis. Isozaki’s Museum of Contemporary Art downtown figures prominently.
Richard Dawson’s game show host is not the peacock of Fellini’s Ginger and Fred. On the contrary, he talks like a television executive.
Glaser’s ugly stylizations convey an ugly situation, the one in the film, the one Glaser finds himself in, the post-Spielberg age of iconoclasm and conformity.
The film opens on fine long views of New York City, which gradually cut in to a single building. A motion-control camera climbs a fire escape and rests on a window with a neon sign in it representing “Aladdin’s lamp” and the single word LAMPS. A wrecking ball is about to demolish the building. Inside the room, snoring is heard from a tall bottle. The wrecking ball advances in “slo-mo”, like an eclipse. The bottle falls to the floor with a scream.
An exceedingly obnoxious and bullied child (played by Frank Capra’s great-grandson) frees the genie (Shaquille O’Neal), but skeptically refuses to make the obligatory three wishes, thus binding the genie to persuade him. The boy’s absconded father is enmeshed in the musical underworld. It all ends happily enough.
Every bit of feature-film style at its multiplex worst is made to serve the turn. Paradoxically, Glaser’s own personality is clearly defined in the midst of it all, somehow.
The acting is very severely kept to a level at or just below Spielberg at his suburban worst, but Fawn Reed is quite temperate as the love interest, and O’Neal is an irrepressibly comic performer who also looks the part.
It’s hard to say if Kazaam’s critical obloquy reflects discernment of its satire or incomprehension of its style. Knowing the critics, one wouldn’t bet on discernment.