Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Running (1979)

          Yet another product of the post-Rocky boom in feel-good sports flicks, this by-the-numbers character piece follows the travails of Michael Andropolis (Michael Douglas), a loser in his early 30s who’s determined to compete in the Olympic marathon. Writer-director Steven Hilliard Stern doesn’t come close to getting viewers in Andropolis’ corner, because the backstory Stern offers for his protagonist is contrived, irritating, and unconvincing: The character quit law school and med school, derailed his marriage to long-suffering Janet (Susan Anspach), and acts out childishly whenever anyone tries to impose authority on him. The character is supposed to be an I-gotta-be-me ’70s iconoclast, but he comes across as nothing more than a spoiled brat. Particularly egregious is a silly scene in which Andropolis berates a clerk at an unemployment office for having the temerity to take her coffee break, as if Andropolis is entitled to righteous indignation after losing a job he treated contemptuously.
          The distance-running stuff in the movie is better than the character material, but not by much; Stern’s idea of a training montage is a string of scenic shots depicting Douglas jogging through city streets while a supposedly uplifting musical theme drones on the soundtrack. Yet even with all of these flaws, Running isn’t awful. Quite frankly, it isn’t enough of anything to warrant a strong reaction one way or the other. Attractive location photography by Laszlo George helps make the film palatable, as do sequences filmed in the Montreal Olympics Stadium that was constructed for the 1976 summer games.
          The main appeal, however, is Douglas, who was just coming into his own as a movie star in the late ’70s. He’s in every scene, and it’s interesting to watch him working out the mechanics of how to command the screen with his signature swagger. He doesn’t get much help from Anspach, a sincere and sunny performer whose unremarkable feature career peaked in the ’70s. Making stronger contributions are reliable character player Chuck Shamata, who does a fine job as an opportunistic car salesman angling to cash in on Andropolis’ moment, and Lawrence Dane, who gives a charged performance as Andropolis’ embittered coach. Running is also noteworthy(ish) for featuring several interesting folks in early small roles, namely comedians Eugene Levy and Robin Duke and dramatic actors Gordon Clapp and Giancarlo Esposito. All in all, Running is pleasant to watch—and then immediately forgettable.

Running: FUNKY

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