If my 19 days in VHS Hell has taught me anything, it is that the 80’s had some weird fucking movies. I don’t know if it was the fascination with the advancement of technology or all the coke that everybody was snorting, but there seemed to be this huge glut of science fiction movies with crazy plots and even crazier performances.
So when I saw the cover to Runaway, and it said starring Tom Selleck, Kristie Alley, and Gene Simmons, I kind of knew what I was getting into. However, a small glimmer of hope appeared at the bottom of the VHS case, “Written and directed by Michael Crichton”.
Yes, that Michael Crichton. New York Times best selling author Michael Crichton, Jurassic Fucking Park writer Michael Crichton. I have read quite a few of his books and loved his 1974 film Westworld, which is being remade by HBO, and if there is anyone I’d like to see make an evil robot Sci-Fi movie, it is him. Even with that horrendous cast. Gene Simmons, Yessh. Kristie Allie, Yikes!! Tom Selleck, has this guy ever been in something good?
I excitedly slammed the VHS tape into the VCR player, but hallway through the movie I realized like most things in the 80’s, excess for the sake of excess is never a good thing.
The first half of Runaway is actually really good. Michael Crichton does a good job with world building, placing these characters in a not-so-distant future, where robots are just a part of everyday life. The world isn’t this cybernetic wonderland of dark metal and neon lights, it is just a society coming to terms with their new technological breakthroughs. Such breakthroughs like crude, Gonk looking robot servants, genetically modified crops, and iPads. The world of Runaway like many of Michael Crichton’s works is speculative fiction, envisioning how humans would react when technology begins to rapidly change their way of life.
One way that society reacts, is by creating a police force that handles retrieving “Runaways”, robots that have malfunctioned and that may cause damage to person or property. This is not a very taxing job, most of time the officers just have to coral the stray robots and then hit an off switch. It is a rather mundane job that most cops want to avoid, they probably rather do something more exciting like paper work. Sgt. Jack R. Ramsay (Tom Selleck) is a member of the Runaways team, having transferred to the squad after a serve case of Acrophobia left him unable to save the lives of six people from an evil madman.
Ramsey is the senior member of the team and is called, along with his new partner Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes), to a house to stop the first robot who has committed a homicide.
Definitely a more exciting and dangerous assignment than usual.
What they find inside the psychotic robot is a new set of integrated circuits which caused the robot to ignore protocol and target humans for destruction.
This information leads them to Dr. Charles Luther (Gene Simmons), a scientist who is as smart as he is bat shit crazy. Dr. Luther has found a way to mass produce these robot mind warping, integrated circuits and plans to sell them to the stereotypical evil corporations and countries in the world, who want to unleash killer robots on the planet.
Another one of Luther’s invention is “Smart Bullets”, which are basically mini heat seeking missiles that can follow their victims like a Call Of Duty care package.
This is the point when the film begins to go a bit off the rails, in terms of compelling story.
Ramsey begins his search to find Luther and ends up finding Jackie Rogers (Kristie Alley), Luther’s’ ex-lover and the person who has stolen his integrated circuits to sell on her own. She ends up being murdered by Luther, in a botched prisoner exchange between her and Ramsey’s partner Karen.
Before she was killed, Jackie gave some of the circuits to Ramsey’s as insurance, which obviously didn’t end up working well for her. Angry in defeat, Luther does what most evil villains do, he goes after Ramsey’s family. After kidnapping Ramsey’s son Bobby (Joey Cramer), and messing up their really sweet, maid robot Lois, he demands another trade. This time the exchange will be Bobby’s life for those damn circuits.
Of course the final battle between Ramsey and Luther takes place on the biggest skyscraper imaginable. Ramsey gives Luther the circuits, but not before Luther sends his son down an elevator speeding towards an army of killer and poisonous spider robots. Once bobby is saved by Karen, Ramsey throws Luther onto the same robots and watches as they inject his body full of robo-poison.
In the end Gene Simmons is dead and Tom Selleck is no longer afraid of heights...oh and the world won’t be taken over by evil gardening robots.
It is a shame that the last half of Runaway delves into a typical cop chase film because everything that comes before it is a pretty interesting tale of when incredible technology becomes something that humans can no longer control. Instead, Runaways care little about going deeper into the impact of these technologies and would rather be an excessively cheesy Sci-Fi film that spends the latter half of the film showing off the “great” special effects of the 80’s. Runaway is a surprising and entertaining Sci-Fi film competently directed by Micheal Crichton. It features some cool shots and pretty good performances, even one from a game Gene Simmons (My apologies to Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons for my earlier comments). I only wish it spent more time focusing on the robots story rather than the human one.
Runaway is one of the better 80’s Sci-Films due to it ideas about emerging technologies, it is just a shame that it rather be a special effects show reel, than a compelling techno thriller.
“You can escape purgatory, but you can’t escape Hell.” - Priest in My Left Foot
This has been day 18 of 30 VHS In 30 DAYS. My journey to the center of VHS Hell. Special thanks to I Luv Video in Austin, The World’s Largest Video Store, for being my spiritual and literal guide through VHS purgatory.