Sunday, February 26, 2017

Night of the Running Man (1995)

Las Vegas taxi driver Jerry Logan (Andrew McCarthy) is either very lucky or very unlucky: a particularly nervous fare is murdered, leaving behind a bag with a million bucks. Jerry, ignoring all that silly grown-ups stuff about consequences to actions one might have running around in one’s brain in this sort of situation, grabs the money and runs.

Not surprisingly, the money belongs to a gangster and casino owner (Wayne Newton). Or rather, it was stolen from said gangster by one of his underlings who found himself blackmailed by one of his underlings. The killed fare was the bagman initially hired to deliver the money to the blackmailer. Said bagman had a change of heart about the affair and decided to steal the loot for himself. Got all that? No? Well, then you’ll be happy to hear that little of this business is actually going to be important for the plot for more than a handful of filler scenes that are most probably just in the movie to bring it up to feature length.

What is important is that the gangsters send out crazy killer David Eckhart (Scott Glenn) to get the money back and kill Jerry. David is brutal, unnecessarily cruel and rather good at following Jerry to whichever city the guy flees to. Later developments find Eckhart teaming up with his old partner, a man nearly as sadistic as he is, Derek Mills (John Glover), and Jerry picking up instant love with a nurse (Janet Gunn) who will also be very useful for the obligatory kidnapping and threatening of loved ones scenes. Jerry should be thankful for the unfortunate incident with Mills, a bucket of cooking water and his feet that introduces him to his new favourite woman.

Director Mark L. Lester’s official career high point was probably the (not terribly enjoyable to an Arnold non-admirer like myself) Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando. Before and after, he directed quite a few other action films and thrillers, even some of the better skinemax films, usually pressing a watchable and entertaining film out of dubious material.

It’ll come as no surprise that you could probably hide a truck in Night of the Running Man’s (a film, by the way, mostly taking place by day and during the course of several of them, and not featuring much non-metaphorical running) plot holes, and can most certainly test some viewers’ ability to suspend their disbelief to the breaking point. That’s par for the course for low budget and mid-level action movies (hell, the more costly one’s aren’t always much better at that “logic” lark either), though, and while some developments here can make the less mild among us a bit testy, most of the film is in good fun, with even the filler scenes having some point to them – even if that point is only giving some supporting actor something entertaining to do.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of fun stuff going on: Glenn’s gleefully evil killer – first introduced when he murders his favourite prostitute because she’s starting to get rather fond of him - is a sight to behold; John Glover clearly thought so too, and turns out an evil sidekick of the same type and style. The film’s violence has a sense of the gleeful too, Glenn’s Eckhart blinding a mugger and throwing a waitress off a dam with a certain pleasurable nonchalance. The actual action scenes are tight and well-paced, and while they aren’t especially crazy, they are still working rather well on the old adrenaline glands.

Fun seems to be the film’s watchword. It’s all about delivering unpleasant personal-level violence as a fun and exciting thing to watch. and that, Night of the Running Man manages to do wonderfully.

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