Title: Runaway (1984)
Director/Writer: Michael Crichton
Cast: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley
Michael Crichton was best known for having written Jurassic Park (1993) but few know that he was already a prolific filmmaker/writer long before that. For example, he’d written and directed films like the sci-fi western mash-up Westworld (1973) and the sci-fi thriller Coma (1978). When we get down to it, he was more of a writer than he was a director, directing wise, in my opinion, he never really had a style, you couldn’t tell his films apart by the direction, rather, you could tell them apart because they had a clever concept, an idea with an often times real life scientific explanation behind them. However farfetched Jurassic Park might seem, Crichton’s books were based research he made about cloning experiments that went on in the real world. And like the best science fiction, Crichton often times tried predicting the future. In Runaway Crichton imagined a world in which robots are common place in society. How did Crichton’s concept play out on film?
In Runaway we meet Jack Ramsay, a police officer who specializes in capturing “Runaway” robots that malfunction and start doing crazy things, like killing people. You see, in this future robots do all sorts of jobs like cook, clean, take care of the children...and even hard labor like construction work. But when robots malfunction and become dangerous, that’s when the Runaway Units comes into play. You see, Runaway Units are these police officers that specialize in dealing with these robots gone awry. When a series of robots start going berserk for no apparent reason, Ramsay discovers a plot to turn robots into killers by installing a special chip on them; can he stop the bad guys from achieving their goals?
Michael Crichton’s films always dealt with technology failing somehow, technology going evil. For example, in Crichton’s Westworld we are presented with the idea of an amusement park that’s made to duplicate the experience of living in the Old West, right down to having real cowboys, cantinas, horses and guns. The only difference is that the cowboys are lifelike robots! At one point, one of the robots goes rogue and starts killing the guests! As you can probably infer, Westworld was actually the precursor to Crichton's own Jurassic Park, which plays with a similar premise, but with dinosaurs. So as you can see, at the center of Crichton’s films there was always this idea that technology can’t be trusted; same thing with Runaway, a film in which robots are turned evil by none other than Gene Simmons from KISS, who plays the villain named Luther. One look at Simmons’s face in this film, and it’s obvious he relishes playing bad guys, he’s evil stare says it all.
The Runaway Division plays out a lot like the premise for BladeRunner (1984), with police officers assigned to stop the rebel robots, only Crichton delivers the whole idea in a cheesier fashion, because while Blade Runner uses the premise of chasing evil robots to explore existentialism, Runaway is all about Ramsay conquering his fear of heights, that's about as deep as this one goes. It's cheesy because while this movie is supposed to take place in "the future" nothing in this movie looks very futuristic at all; everything looks like its 1984, only with clunky looking robots doing things. By the way, the robots in this movie look like the retarded brothers of R2-D2. Even cheesier is the fact that all these cops have to do is turn off a switch on the robots? I mean, it kind of makes you think why people can’t do this job themselves? Why do they have to call a cop to do it? But part of the fun of watching this particular movie is how dated technology is, how everyone is amazed at things that are common place today, like hacking into a computer system. At one point Gene Simmons hacks into the police departments cameras and he’s like “I bet you’re wondering how I did that?” So yeah, technology is completely out dated on this one, which makes it kind of funny.
A promotional still for Runaway, and a sample of the clunky robots in the film
And the film is so incredibly 80’s, starting by how the cops have cars and uniforms that don’t look futuristic at all, they look like cops from T.J. Hooker or C.H.I.P.S? Anybody remember those cop shows from the 80’s? So anyhow, lots of things make Runaway oh so very 80’s, starting by the fact that Kirstie Alley looks really hot on this movie, so that dates the movie as well, this movie was shot well before she turned into the poster girl for overweight women; but on this movie? She’s hotter than Georgia Asphalt! There’s this whole sequence in which Kirstie Alley having to strip in order to locate a bug on her body? So sleazy! Then we have Tom Selleck and his intimidating monster moustache which is just like awe inspiringly huge on this film. And then there’s all these nonsensical things that could only happen in a film from the 80’s, like this scene in which a robot spider shoots acid on Ramsay’s face and it’s like, no big deal, he only gets a mild wound when his whole face should have melted off? Or when all Gene Simmons’s has to do in order to infiltrate a police station is dress like a cop? Doesn’t anybody notice this guy doesn’t work here? And he does this to hack the police files! Then, in order to break into the computer he uses someone’s eyeball (it’s never explained whose eyeball it is or how he got it) in order to break the police computers retinal eye scan code…nobody gives a flying flip that this guy has a detached eyeball in his hand!? This movie is hilarious as only a film from the 80’s can be.
"Kiss me, never mind the acid on my face!"
But then it’s got some cool things about it, like this whole chase sequence in which the good guys are chased down a highway by these little remote control robots that blow up, that was cool. There’s this whole plot line about Gene Simmons selling these black market guns that shoot heat seeking bullets. When shot, we get these cool bullet POV shots that reminded me of something Sam Raimi would have done in his Evil Dead movies. Then there’s this whole ending sequence that takes place in a construction site, high up, it’s such an extended sequence, goes on forever, but it has some cool vertigo inducing sequences. At the end of the day, this isn’t the greatest film in the world, but it’s also kinda entertaining, and I have to admit it has an original premise. It just feels like it needed a bit more money to make it a bit more futuristic and a bit less like an 80’s television show.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 5