Runaway – 1984

Written and Directed by Michael Crichton
Starring Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, Stan Shaw, Joey Cramer, Chris Mulkey, Michael Paul Chan

Michael Crichton is a name forever enshrined in history with Jurassic Park. Fewer would associate him with the original incarnation of Westworld, along with a slew of sci-fi (and occasionally other) books and films. He’d been considered a success even before Jurassic Park, but after, he was considered a legend. Looking back, his works were imaginative, if somewhat limited to their time. His work as a director was highlighted by Coma and The Great Train Robbery. Two films I enjoyed in my youth were Looker and this, Runaway. Time kind of merged these films in my mind. Then, yesterday, I had the opportunity to get this free, so I took it. Still not sure there is a difference between the two films, talent-wise. Neither of them exhibit much skill in the way of entertaining adults.

As for Runaway, Tom Selleck is Sgt. Jack Ramsay, a widower with a plucky little son who heads up the Runaway division of the police force in an unspecified city of the near future. His division essentially shuts down robot helpers that have lost their way or become a danger. He used to be a regular cop, but he took a few courses on robotics because he’s afraid of heights. Guess where the end of this film will take place.

He’s breaking in a new partner, Thompson (Rhodes), and together they do a few mundane jobs before coming across the path of sociopathic genius Dr. Charles Luther (Simmons). Luther’s got some interesting new tech that is designed to override robotic safety protocols and he’s out to get rid of anyone who is aware of it.

What little there is to like about this film resides in the sinister sneer of Gene Simmons in one of his few film roles. He’s a bad dude, and he wants you to know he will enjoy you suffering as you figure it out. He’s got a big gun that shoots personally guided heat seeking missiles. How this shifts from person to person is unclear, but you really won’t care. He only hits a couple of characters with them.

He also has other trinkets that cause damage. One scene on a freeway has very fast remote control cars that also go after targets mostly unsuccessfully. Then there are the little metal spiders. I thought these were cooler at age 13 than they are now. They inject acid or shoot it at you, they jump, and they explode. Crichton doesn’t have the special effects budget or the camera wielding knowledge to make any of this look even suspenseful, much less entertaining.

Tom Selleck is one of those actors who had talent and charisma to spare on his television show Magnum P.I. during the early 1980’s. Unfortunately none of that transfers to the big screen with Crichton’s screenplay. Here he is nice enough, but whooo boy is he boring. What kind of film would it have been if he and fellow officers Shaw and Rhodes had been allowed to improvise more than just staring intently at microchips and yelling occasionally.

Kirstie Alley is wasted in her role of informant / target, but she is given more props for her looks than Rhodes during the second act. Strangely, Rhodes’ takes the insult in stride, so by the end of the film she gets to pretend she’s making out with Selleck for a couple of agonizing minutes as the credits roll by them.

This is not so much a film to remember as it is one to learn from. There were a lot of movies like this one in the 1980’s, and we survived to make more stupid films later.

(*1/2 out of *****)

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