Guilty Pleasures: The Running Man

The former Governors of California and Minnesota, the original host of “Family Feud”, a Hall of Fame Cleveland Browns running back, the drummer of Fleetwood Mac, and the son of Frank Zappa in a movie based on a work of Stephen King? Yes, it exists and it’s the fun guilty pleasure that it sounds like. We’re talking about The Running Man from 1987 and it’s kind of the original down and dirty Hunger Games 25 years before Katniss and company graced the silver screen.

Released in the same year as his genuine classic Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in this science fiction entry set in the far off future year of 2017. The pic imagines that time as a police state where accused criminals are chased down for sport before a live TV audience on a show hosted by a nefarious character played by real life Feud host Richard Dawson. The supporting cast includes aforementioned folks like Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown, Mick Fleetwood, and Dweezil Zappa.

Let there be no mistake – this is strictly B movie stuff and it doesn’t deserve to mentioned in the same breath as true Arnold classics like The Terminator, Predator and Total Recall. Yet this cinematic junk food is a lot more of a good time than it ought to be and that’s why it easily qualifies as a true guilty pleasure.

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Guilty Pleasures: Dragnet

One of summer 2014’s biggest hits is 22 Jump Street, a comedic take on a TV crime drama that came nearly three decades before it. The same can be said for the financially successfully 1987 summer pic Dragnet, which was based on the Jack Webb show from the 1950s and 1960s.

Dragnet has developed a fairly poor reputation in the past quarter century, but truth be told – it’s a lot of fun and is worth a look for some genuine laughs. It earns a spot in my Guilty Pleasures blog series. The film stars Dan Aykroyd, who gives one of his greatest comedic performances channeling Webb as straight-laced LAPD sergeant Joe Friday. His smart ass partner Pep Streebek is played by Tom Hanks, a few years prior to his serious acting turns and multiple Oscars. We also have Christopher Plummer as a corrupt televangelist and Dabney Coleman as a Larry Flynt like porn peddler. The duo are chasing down a cult group called P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness and Normalcy – love that name) who believe in crazy activities like sacrificing virgins such as Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul). One of the my favorite running jokes in the movie is that everyone refers to her constantly as “The Virgin Connie Swail” – as if she’s a Biblical figure.

Most critics didn’t like it and don’t get me wrong – Dragnet does not approach the 80s greatness of your Vacation or Ghostbusters and so forth. Yet it’s heart is in the right place and there are plenty of laughs to be had. It more than earns a spot on my Guilty Pleasures list.

Guilty Pleasures: The Fifth Element (1997)

Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element from the summer of 1997 begins in Egypt circa 1914 with “Beverly Hills 90210” star Luke Perry being involved in an alien invasion. Everything gets more bizarre from there on…

This is not your everyday summer blockbuster and that’s an understatement. By 1997, director Besson had the clout to basically make whatever picture he wanted. And that’s precisely what he did here. After 1991’s La Femme Nikita and 1994’s Leon: The Professional, French auteur Besson was a hot Hollywood commodity. This led to The Fifth Element, a story he reportedly constructed when he was a teenager and got to make some twenty years later. The picture indeed feels like it was constructed by someone not yet of adult age. It may not always make a whole lot of sense and it has frequent tone shifts… you know, like an impatient teenager was writing it. On the flip side, Element is simply a tremendous amount of fun, contains a lot of well-placed humor, and is a visual feast for the eyes. The Fifth Element is evidence of what happens when a teenager’s fantasy flick is given a $90 million dollar budget.

The story primarily takes place in the year 2214, where the fate of planet Earth hangs in the balance. A beautiful woman Leeloo (Milla Jovovich, who’s terrific here) comes to Earth and is seen a necessary figure in order to save the planet’s impending doom. It all has to do with four mythical stones that must be obtained in connection with a mysterious “fifth element” (get it?) to ensure civilization’s survival.

Caught up in the middle of it all is taxi cab driver Corbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) who forms a connection with Leeloo and goes along with her on the journey. And yet… there’s so much more.

There’s Gary Oldman hamming it up fantastically as a demented industrialist and weapons dealer.

 

There’s Chris Tucker as a flamboyant talk show host, doing some sort of demented impression of Prince and perhaps Dennis Rodman.

 

There’s a weird looking blue alien singing opera and then techno music (you gotta see that one for yourself). Oh, heck, here you go:

The pic is also a triumph of bizarre costumes all designed by the world famous Jean-Paul Gaultier, who coincidentally designs the cologne I normally wear.

And truth be told… it’s all entertaining as hell. Guilty pleasure entertaining? Absolutely. If you haven’t seen The Fifth Element or if it’s been a while, I recommend a look just to behold what Besson was able to get away with in a major studio picture.

Guilty Pleasures: Clue (1985)

And now… for a new category on the blog. It’s called Guilty Pleasures and if you’re a movie lover, you’ve got ’em.

Those movies that you love and watch every single time they’re on TV, but don’t immediately come to mind when people ask what the greatest movies are. I get asked that question a lot. And truth be told, there’s a difference between greatest movies and favorite movies.

Schindler’s List is one of the greatest movies of all time. I’ve seen it once. In the theater. Almost twenty years ago. However, a Guilty Pleasure movie… that’s a different story.

My first selection is Clue, the 1985 comedy based on the popular Parker Bros. board game. We all know the game. I played it incessantly as a young child growing up in the inner city of Fremont.

Co-written by director Jonathan Lynn and comedy genius extraordinaire John Landis, Clue is simply a whole lot of fun. It was not particularly well-received upon its release and grossed $14 million domestically (its budget was $15 million). Since then, it’s developed a deserved cult following. I am a proud member of the cult.

Clue excels in its casting. As the players suspected of killing Mr. Body, we have the invaluable Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White, Lesley Anne Warren as Miss Scarlet, Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock, Michael McKean as Mr. Green, Martin Mull as Colonel Mustard, and Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum. They all have some great moments to shine. Even better, Tim Curry is marvelous as Wadworth, the butler of Hill House.

The picture comes in at a tidy and fast-paced 94 minutes. There were three endings shot for the pic with different characters being the murderer. During its theatrical release, some viewers saw one outcome. Others witnessed an alternate ending. By the time it was released on home video, all 3 endings were shown back to back… to back.

Is Clue a great movie? No, but damn it’s fun. And it’s populated with talented actors who seem to be enjoying themselves. Is it a guilty pleasure? I guess so. However, it’s also indisputably the Citizen Kane of movies based on board games… meaning it’s better than Battleship. And unlike Battleship, it’s intentionally funny.