Classic Movie Review: Runaway

You know what’s great about 1980’s sci-fi films? When they’re great, they’re really great. When they’re terrible, they’re really terrible. Such is Runaway. A “futuristic” look at robots who malfunction and the police squad dedicated to taking them out.

As far as futuristic visions go, Terminator this ain’t. Hell, it’s not even A.I. material. The robots featured are standard household appliances and office copiers that move around and speak, and then go batshit insane and kill everything that moves. Somehow I’m already seeing problems  here.

Our hero is Sgt. Jack Ramsay, played by Magnum P.I.’s Tom Selleck. Unfortunately, Selleck puts in zero of his usual humor and charm to his character, so instead of a fun filled adventure, we get monotonous scene after scene after scene of 1)robot goes crazy 2)Selleck comes in with a flashlight 3)robot kills stupid TV camera man who didn’t listen to Selleck 4)Selleck shoots the bot and saves the baby. Repeat.

There’s an evil madman chip programmer, basically a nerd with a grudge, who is sabotaging these robots and it’s up to Selleck and his new leggy partner to stop him. All the usual action scenes are played out with a classic 80’s soundtrack and things go exactly as we expect them to. Only, you know, crappier.

Right off the bat there is a failure of basic logic in this movie. Take Selleck’s own robot for starters. He calls it Lois. First of all, you do NOT name your robot. This thing looks like a stereo cabinet with arms for God’s sake. Why are you holding a conversation with it?

It cooks and cleans, and follows his son around, but all it does is boil pasta noodles and  tattles on the kid like some kind of C-3PO nanny. What good is this thing really? You even have to give it a daily menu before it cooks your food and shit. Waste of time.

So now, how again did these robots even become so popular? I tell you, the first time a Roomba Vacuum kills a kid, those things are off the market. When we have to assign cops to robot disposal, it’s gone too far. If you tell me, hey this robot will boil water, but sometimes they lose it and cut your family up, well-I’ll boil my own water thank you very much.

Also, why the hell is there an entire police squad dedicated to this? Complete with offices, chain-mail body armor,  helicopters and the full nines, it’s a total mis-use of public funds when presumably there are still actual human beings out there committing crimes. But then again, these shitty robots malfunction so much, daily it would seem, that I suppose it’s become needed.

And why are the cops called Runaways? I understand that’s the term for the robots once they go rogue, but the cops? Shouldn’t they have a useful acronym or something? And, just so you know, these robots don’t actually run away. They go nutso and kill. Very different things here, people.

Remember kids, the quickest way to disgruntle a robot is menial labor.

Basically this is just about the laziest sci-fi film that Michael Crichton could have come up with. Oh, yea. I forgot. Michael “Jurassic Park”  Crichton wrote and directed this thing. He had done another admittedly decent robot flick, Westworld, in the 70’s. But this time around, he goes for more of a evil dishwasher kind of feel.

Aaahh! Kill it! Kill it! Get a shoe!

Here is a prime example of laziness. At one point, Selleck’s at a construction site. Humans and robots working side by side, but there’s a sign that reads “Warning. Robots not equipped with human sensors.” Well, somebody ought to fucking equip them then, don’t you think? What kind of a world do we live in where robots are given welding tools and cement mixers but no sensors to detect humans around them? Are you kidding me?

The foreman even boasts the benefits of the robots, all while one of his own “stacking bots” has gone nuts and is dumping 50 lb. bags of concrete off the 14th floor. It doesn’t make any sense, and just having signs around contradicting everything the characters are saying is lousy.

There’s just so many potentially good ideas put to waste and so many movie cliches that go wrong, it’s staggering. Let’s look at how Runaway approaches standard movie character development and plot.

There’s some mystery over Selleck at the beginning, why is he on the robot squad? What happened? But, where some films might have held that drama and waited more than, oh, five minutes to reveal a back story, Runaway gives it up in the second scene. And where some movies would have let the female romantic interest progress a little with the lead before a surprise twist, Runaway just flat out spills, literally, its secrets in Kristie Alley’s introduction scene. Some movies have cool futuristic guns and weapons, but Runaway is more of a cartoonish speeding bullet more appropriate for Yosemite Sam. The police chief is an asshole, the partner is a cop in a miniskirt, the villain is all “you think I’m stupid?”

Such a lazy movie. But the worst really are the robots. In a time when a Mac was still called “Machintosh” it’s easy to think that the futuristic devices seem a little dated. But that isn’t the whole story. No. They ,ostly just LAZY.

When a robot being examined is equipped with an arson explosive, puny little fireworks come out. When Selleck puts down a robot, he does it with a laser pointer.

The assassin bots are little erect-a-set spiders hobbling along before striking. The bad guy (a pretty good Gene Simmons pulling a Mick Jagger in Freejack before Mick Jagger), boasts that the spiders are filled with poison, but they just stand there. Just. Stand. There. Selleck takes three or four of ’em out single handed.

At one point, a robot gets a gun, although it’s only about a foot and a half tall. How did it get a gun? Did you leave it on the floor? Don’t leave your gun within reaching distance of the unstable machine.

The best is the predictable climax. Right from the get go, we’re told over and over about Selleck’s fear of heights. Literally, every other scene has a reference to it. As in, “aren’t you afraid of heights, Tom Selleck?” To which Selleck will reply, “Yes. Yes I am afraid of heights.” And on and on.

So what’s the climax? Atop that same construction site from earlier, a showdown with Selleck having to face his fear in order to rescue his son. Yea, they got his son too. Come alone they tell him. But that look in his partner’s eye is telling me she’s going to follow and save him. And then, the robots fail to kill Selleck, but pounce on the bad guy two minutes later. And when it’s all wrapped up, our supposedly dead foe pulls one of those surprise “he’s actually alive still!” But where a regular movie would have had a final conflict or surprise partner kills him angle a la Die Hard, Runaway is content to let the bad guy just scream and then promptly die again. No fuss, no muss. No fun.

Tom Selleck keeps his cool around the arachnid android.

Gene Simmons? Not so much.

You know, here I thought I was going into a fun silly little sci-fi flick with Mr. Baseball in it, but this? This is ridiculous. It’s easy to see why this film never escaped 1984, and why I never heard of it till now. If you like cheesy action,  big hair and manly mustaches, Runaway might interest you. For everyone else, there’s Blade Runner.



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