Directed by Michael Crichton.
Starring Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, G.W. Bailey, Joey Cramer, and Stan Shaw.
In the near future, where robots have integrated with humans, a madman starts reprogramming the machines to turn against the human race.
There is nothing more certain to date a movie than a futuristic setting, especially when that movie is from the 1980s, a decade so hip and happening it was considered retro about half an hour before it was over. With that in mind, 1984s Runaway appears, on first glance, like another glimpse into a future where vehicles, weapons and machinery all look like cardboard boxes wrapped in silver paper (which they are), everything is explained away by “computers” and Gene Simmons has his own hair (possibly).
But when you look past the cosmetics and Tom Selleck’s moustache – which looks mighty fine whatever decade it is in – there are a lot of details in Runaway that relate to what we have today; for example, we have drones, Runaway has floater cameras. We also have Alexa, whilst Runaway has Lois, the only difference being Lois is mobile and can prepare dinner – it’s only a matter of time before Amazon add that to Alexa’s capabilities – and we have Gene Simmons huffing and puffing about in a silly costume and so does Runaway. You get the idea.
Written and directed by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), Runaway sees tetchy cop Jack Ramsay (Selleck) and his new partner Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes – Dirty Dancing) investigating why the domestic and commercial robots that have become the norm seem to be malfunctioning. Is that a job for the police? In Runaway it is, as the cops have a department especially set up for this kind of thing and Ramsay apparently has a history in the force so he ends up chasing Robot Wars runners up for a living and zapping them with his laser pointer, much to the delight of his overly quizzical and likely overly caffeinated young son Bobby (Joey Cramer – Flight of the Navigator).
As all this is going on Ramsay uncovers a plot to make robots identify specific humans and turn against set targets. The author of this potential destruction is sociopathic madman Dr. Charles Luthor (Simmons), who is selling his technology to the highest bidder on the black market, and Luthor now becomes the target for a slightly annoyed Ramsay, who takes his work very seriously.
Oh yes, Runaway is chock full of clichés, from the aforementioned cardboard boxes covered in wrapping paper pretending to be robots to the angry police chief (played admirably by G.W. Bailey who also played the similarly highly strung Lieutenant Harris in Police Academy the same year) who won’t let Ramsay tackle things his own way, to Gene Simmons’s pantomime villain performance which, given his day job in Kiss, is something of a busman’s holiday for him. But for all of Runaway’s nonsense – of which there is plenty – there is also a lot of charm to it.
Given that this came out the same year as The Terminator its sci-fi aspirations are more akin to 1960s Star Trek than to anything more contemporary, although given how close Michael Crichton’s predictions are to where we will be in this not-too-distant future (the year is never given but it wouldn’t be surprising if it happened to be set around about now) there is something underneath all of the TV cop show theatrics that maybe warrants further inspection or analysis. However, such themes would likely be better explored if this movie were ever remade, given the throwaway and slightly camp way it all seems to be played out here.
But despite Gene Simmons’ constant grimacing and gurning, the killer robot spiders that inject acid into their victims (no, really…) and several other unexplained and ludicrous plot devices – such as Luthor’s strange looking gun that shoots miniature missiles that follow their intended victims around corners, through alleyways and into crowds of people, but how do the missiles know which person to follow? – Runaway is a fun and entertaining ride if you can bear to close your mind off and stop questioning what you are seeing. Tom Selleck does his solid leading man thing with little in the way of anything to do other than tell everyone that they are wrong and that he wants to capture Luthor, and the other supporting cast do their bit and try to take it all seriously, with only G.W. Bailey and veteran character actor Stan Shaw seeming to know what movie they are in and letting go just a bit. Which leaves Gene Simmons, who doesn’t seem too sure whether he is in something extremely highbrow or something that is totally beneath him and so pitches his performance accordingly, i.e. go for scenery chewing and hope for the best.
It’s a fairly minimal disc, with only an audio commentary by film historian Kevin Lyons included as an extra, but the movie itself looks clean and tidy, the HD clean-up not doing the special effects many favours, not that they were that exceptional to start with, but Tom Selleck’s moustache in 1080p is a much more magnificent prospect than any naff ‘80s opticals and well worth the upgrade. Other than that, Runaway is an enjoyable slice of 1980s sci-fi that may induce more laughter these days than was originally intended but there are enough ideas percolating away under the schlock to maybe look at it from a fresh perspective and give it a little more credit than perhaps an initial viewing may provide.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★