‘Running with Arnold’

Friday January 11, 2008

Say what you will about the quality of his achievements, from the silver screen to the governor’s mansion, there’s no doubting the ambition of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

Running With Arnold, a new documentary by Dan Cox, opening today at Landmark’s Opera Plaza in San Francisco, traces the remarkable career of the Austrian body builder-turned-real estate magnate-turned-Hollywood actor-turned-California governor. 

The man is bold, single-minded and determined, and the story of his climb from scrawny kid to political powerhouse is very impressive indeed. But what the film makes clear—and this is hardly a revelation—is the utter vacuousness of that ambition. Schwarzenegger, it seems, is all but incapable of valuing his achievements in anything but the most shallow of terms. He measures his Hollywood films solely by box office receipts, his political career entirely by polls, popularity and partisan victories. There is little room in his worldview for anything more complex or meaningful.  

That said, the film relies on appearances almost as much as Arnold himself, using innuendo and circumstantial evidence to tie the governor to several right-wing conspiracies. The scenarios of these shady dealings are plausible enough, but even those inclined to be sympathetic toward Cox’s take would have to admit the case he presents is a bit thin. 

His choice of talking heads can be questioned as well. Much of the film consists of gags and one-liners from a bevy of comedians. There is no shortage of wit, but the film, like its subject, is woefully short on substance. 

Directed by Dan Cox. 72 minutes. Not rated.