Sunday, December 17, 2023

Arnie and Jesse: Governors in Action

In 1999, wrestler and actor Jesse Ventura was elected for the office of governor of Minnesota.  He served one term in that office as the Reform candidate, but opted not to run for re-election.

In 2003, body builder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor of California as a Republican, after the recent governor, Grey Davis, was recalled.  He went on to be elected and serve for two more full  terms in the office.  He was limited by state constitution to two terms so could not run for a third term.

But this post is not about their lives as political candidates.



Prior to their political turns (and afterward) both men were Hollywood stars. And, though it may seem like there were more, the two only appeared together in two movies; One as allies (Predator) and one as enemies (The Running Man).  Both were essentially starring vehicles for Schwarzenegger, but Ventura also played a significant presence in them.

Action stars both, but Schwarzenegger had the bigger career (of course). Whether Ventura's acting career stagnated because of career choices or he just didn't have the cachet I can't say.  He did have some rather memorable excursions as a lead actor (including the title role in one of is first movies,  Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe) and a less than memorable role as the co-star with Rowdy Roddy Piper in a TV pilot (Tag Team), but his acting career was not on par with Schwarzenegger.

Predator (1987):

Unlike most action movies, this one doesn't waste time with a lot of build up to the action.  A mere 5 minutes into the film we are already on the way.  "Dutch" Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) and his crew of mercenaries for hire, which include Blain (Ventura), as well as "Poncho" (Richard Chaves) the explosives guy, Billy (Sonny Landham) a tracker, Rick (Shane Black) the radio operator, and Mac (Bill Duke) a machine gun expert are in the air on the way to the drop off.


The crew also includes an old friend of Dutch, Dillon (Carl weathers), who was instrumental in getting the mercenaries brought in on the rescue operation in the first place. The rescue, a recovery of some hostages who have been captured by some guerillas in a Central American jungle, is the primary job.

But while advancing to the stronghold where they are being held, the crew encounters some strange phenomena.  They find members of the piloting crew skinned alive and wonder why the guerillas would do such a thing. (Of course, it wasn't the guerillas that did it, but the crew doesn't know that yet.)

Of course, everything is not all it seems.  The capture of supposedly innocent civilians eventually turns out to be that the "civilians" were not so "innocent" as the crew was led to believe.  Upon arriving at the stronghold they blast away and while the crew is pretty accurate with their guns, apparently the guerillas couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with an atom bomb. 

If you know ANYTHING about this movie you probably know the line that Blain utters.after Poncho observes that he has been hit and is bleeding:

"I ain't got time to bleed."

(Side noteI Ain't Got Time to Bleed was also one of Ventura's political books, the title of which came from this movie.  Good book if you want to check it out.)

After the fire fight, and with all the hostages and the guerillas dead, the crew determines they need to high tail it out of there because more enemy forces are on their way.  Dillon insists that the one surviving member of the guerilla force, a female soldier, needs to be taken with them because she could give them away if left behind. (Always has to be a female who presents both a hazard and an enticement in these kinds of films, you know...) It turns out that the female becomes more useful in the long run, however.

Now we get to the meat of the story. Watching the proceedings is a mysterious character and the only way we know at the beginning that it is not necessarily human is we see it's POV, which is apparently some kind of helmet that lets it see the human and other figures as heat sources. 




The next hour or so of the movie involves the crew gradually coming to the realization that the hunters trying to get to them are not "HUNTERS" but one "HUNTER", and it ain't exactly human.  It turns out of course that it is the alien we see in the first minute of the movie being ejected from a spaceship flying past the Earth.  We are never really told why just one alien is landing, nor why it is in the jungle in the first place, or what it's ultimate objective is.  (Although if it's ultimate goal is the extermination of humans, it seems more logical it would initially land in some place like New York City or Los Angeles... wait until the sequel to get that scenario.)   

The predator begins taking out the crew one by one, and of course the final battle comes down to a one on one with Dutch (who else... it is a Schwarzenegger movie after all). My big complaint is that Blain goes way too early in the film. Not that I don't like Mac (or Billy or Dillon for that matter). Bill Duke, who plays Mac, is always  a treat when he gets enough screen time to be a presence. (see Car Wash for a real good Bill Duke performance. He is as intense there as he is here) And of course we all know Carl Weathers from his turns as Apollo Creed in the early Rocky  movies, so we know how good he can be .

The ultimate battle comes down to Dutch and the alien, and instead of the alien just blasting Dutch with one of his alien ray guns, they go mano a mano.




This was director John McTiernan's first major film.  You can get an insight into his future as a director of such well-remembered action films like the first two Die Hard films as well as The Hunt for Red October and  Last Action Hero.  He was also director of the remake of Rollerball in 2002, but the less said about that one the better...

Of course, as with most Schwarzenegger movies, this one made a profit.  And it even managed to get a nomination for an Oscar (for Best Visual Effects, but it lost to it's only competitor, Innerspace). It got mixed reviews on it's release, but that old standby for referencing reviews, Roger Ebert, gave it 3 stars.  It currently has an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  And audiences love it even today. Whether that's because of the story or just Schwarzenegger's biceps is the question. As an action movie and sci-fi movie fan I think it's entertaining although my rational mind still has those questions referenced above.

Schwarzenegger and Ventura were both pretty busy in 1986-87. After finishing filming this movie, they got together for another action film The Running Man.

The Running Man (1987):.

 The Running Man is loosely (heavy emphasis on the word "loosely") based on a Stephen King novel (published under what was then an unknown pen name of "Richard Bachman"). Note the cover of the first publication below: "In 2025...". Which means we are not far from this scenario, time-wise, and what with reality TV being what it is, we may not be that far away after all...


[A side note: In 1983, when the original novel hit the stands I was working on a paper route as a source of income.  One night, after throwing the paper, I stopped off to get something to drink at the local grocery store.  As was my custom whenever I was there I would browse the paperback book racks for something interesting.  And I bought a copy of this book. It remains in my possession even today. And without the obligatory "Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman" on the cover since it was still unknown that King was Bachman. (see image above)  It is probably the most valuable thing I own, since copies of the first edition can fetch about $100 or more]

The novel was pretty good. Now, the fact is that it was optioned for Hollywood BEFORE the revelation that Bachman was actually a King pen name. (I picked that tidbit up from listening to podcasts, so I don;t actually have a credible source to verify it.)  In all honesty I thought it would probably have never seen light of day as a potential Hollywood film if it hadn't turned out that Bachman was actually King.

The basic premise, a future world where the most popular TV show is a game show that pits contestants against a cast of hunters whose job it is to eliminate the contestant is still present. And that's about it. The rest of the film is entirely in the mind of the scriptwriters.  If you read the novel AND watch the movie you can decide who did a better job with the story. I recommend you do both.  Each is worth the effort individually, but doing both will enlighten you on the controversy that King has had with Hollywood productions of his works.

In the beginning of the film, Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) is a police officer monitoring a riot on the streets. (In the book Richards is not a policeman, just an out of work guy looking to make some money).  The movie Richards is ordered to fire upon the rioters who are unarmed and just looking for food.  Did I mention this is a dystopian future?  Well, it is.  And in Hollywood that always means the government tries to rundown the common man. (i.e: the good guys are the innocent proletariat and the bad guys are the government, or at least the non-Liberal government, which is the personification of "evil" in the Hollywood world. Remember Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office at the time)

Anyway Richards refuses the order and is taken prisoner by his fellow officers.  And said fellow officers complete the mission, that of stopping the riot by force. Flash forward a few months.  Richards was convicted and sent to prison as the person who fired on the unarmed civilians.  Yes, the same government that was trying to force him to kill the civilians made him the scapegoat for the crime.

After a successful escape from the prison (I just encapsulated a fantastic 10 minute sequence there, but the end result is his escape), Richards is out to track down and hook up with his brother to try to get out of the country.  Only in the interim of his prison time his brother was also arrested and made a prisoner.  At the brother's apartment instead of finding the brother he finds Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso). (Note: There is a part here that will make you sit up and say "huh"? Richards uses his brother's security code to enter the apartment, but it turns out that Amber has moved in.  She didn't change the security code?)




Richards takes Amber hostage in his attempt to escape the country, but things don't go as well as planned.  And as a result of his capture he is brought to Killian (Richard Dawson), the host of the nation's most popular TV show, The Running Man. Killian coerces Richards to become the next contestant on the show, the plot of which is that the contestant is sent out into a playing grid (essentially a neighborhood section of the city) with a hit man, called a Stalker,  sent to kill him. The cadre of Stalkers that could be sent after him are chosen by  a random member of the audience. The Stalkers are your basic video game fighting characters with their own special weapons and outfits. 




Killian of course, in keeping with the sleazy double dealing trope of the villain in these movies, has double-crossed Richards. He initially convinced Richards to play the game in place of two of his fellow prison escapees, but at the last minute Richards finds out that Killian is going to send his two compatriots into the playing grid, too. These two friends, played by Yaphet Kotto and Marvin McIntyre, become targets for the Stalkers as the game progresses. (It probably goes without saying that the two friends are eventually dead meat, but they do get a few chances to get their chops in.)

Back to the studio, the first Stalker to be sent out after the runners is chosen by a random member of the audience. And like any contestant who gets a front row spot on The Price is Right, she is overwhelmed to be on the same stage as Killian. So the first stalker sent out is Professor Subzero (Professor Toru Tanaka)




Meanwhile, on another front, Amber has discovered that the world is being given false information about Richards and takes it upon herself to try to find out the truth.  Conveniently she works for the TV station so she can access the files. And, of course, the TV station kept on file the actual footage of the real riot scene as well as the edited footage the public got to see that framed Richards. But she is got red-handed and becomes yet another runner in the grid. (Along with the edited footage show to viewers,  that promotes her as a whore, a conspirator and who knows what else, so the public can howl for her blood, too.) 

Back on the playing grid, it doesn't take long for the first victim to be eliminated from the competition. Unfortunately for Killian and the fans, the first victim is Subzero.  A shock in more ways than one because apparently a Stalker has never been killed before in the history of the show. Which brings up the next contestant, who being indecisive, manages to have Killian pit two Stalkers into the grid; Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch), a chainsaw equipped Stalker and Dynamo (Erland van Lidth), an opera loving Stalker whose main weapon is electricity. {Side note: van Lidth actually was an opera singer. That's actually him singing in the scenes where Dynamo sings}.








The defeat of Buzzsaw is a "buzz kill" (yeah, I said it.). But the battle against Dynamo features a background music of "Ride of the Valkyries" (appropriate for a battle with an opera singer, even if it is pretty much expected and possibly a cheesy trope at that point.)  The death of one more of the Stalkers in unprecedented. (Richards leaves Dynamo alive, but powerless.) Apparently no one, the audience nor even Killian himself, has seen such carnage performed on  the "lawmakers". It's bound to be a foregone conclusion that they have seen such carnage committed against the players, but then the players are supposed to be lawbreakers, so that's no big deal.

Bring on the backups. Fireball (Jim Brown) a Stalker from the back stage is brought up. And since Dynamo was allowed to live, we have another pair of Stalkers to pit against the renegade policeman.  But Richards gives them more than Killian and the execs or the Stalkers bargained for.  But there is still one more chance for the "good guys".  Jesse Ventura finally gets his chance as Captain Freedom, a retired Stalker who has been reduced to doing exercise videos.








Eventually Richards gets free of the confines of the game grid and goes after Killian.  The final wrap of the movie is just as you'd expect from such a movie.

If you are just looking for a lot of action and a few explosions this movie is pretty good.  However, if you are looking for a film that stays true to it's source material, or are just a fan of King as King actually wrote the original, you might want to avoid this one. It's not as bad as, say, Lawnmower Man in that respect, but it does not come all that close to the novel.

Well, folks, the drive home will prove to be a challenge.  I think I will avoid that section of the city  that has all those cameras all over the place.  Drive safely.






  1. It never ceases to amaze me that 2 future governors appeared in what at the time seemed like a throwaway sci-fi action thriller. Of course Predator is a true classic of its type, as witnessed by all the sequels and reboots.
    I've never seen The Running Man, but your description of the stalkers as a sort of collection of low-rent comic supervillains sounds like a lot of fun, along with the casting of Family Feud's Richard Dawson as the Master of Ceremonies.

    1. I watched The Running Man originally because it was based on Stephen King. Not that I wouldn't have gone for Arnie if that wasn't the case... Thanks for reading.

  2. Hi Quiggy - Am not a Republican but happen to LOVE both these guys. Would vote for 'em too.

    1. Chris? OMG, you're still alive? I thought maybe you got sucked into another dimension. :-D Glad to have you back. Thanks for reading.


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