Director: Michael Crichton
Starring: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons
Article written by JJ Mortimer
Yes, that is late author Michael Crichton who directed this film. He was actually a very good director during his few stints behind the camera, most notably for Westworld, about the western-themed park where the robots go haywire and start killing the visitors (hints at his own future Jurassic Park, perhaps?), and The Great Train Robbery starring Sean Connery.
With 1984s futuristic crime thriller Runaway, Crichton gives us something that was unique for the time. Much of the themes in this film are pretty prevalent in his novel works, many involving the breakdown of man's control over nature or science. In this film, almost every household family owns a robot - ones that can answer phones, keep messages, have full fledged conversations with you, shoot you in the chest with a pistol, and even cook. I'm sure there were sex models available, but this IS a PG-13 film.
Oh, what was I saying about robots shooting you in the chest? Yeah, well, those little electronic fuckers have breakdowns occasionally, and it's up to The Stache himself, Tom Selleck, to get on the case.
Magnum P.I. plays Jack Ramsay, a police officer who specializes in cases involving malfunctioning robots. When it turns out that some of them may have been programmed specifically to commit murder, it's up to him to find out who's behind it (obviously). Luckily for us, that homicidal techie maniac is none other than KISS front man, Gene Simmons.
In 1984, a lot of movie fans had no idea who Gene Simmons was, and seeing his creepy mug on screen made us believe that he truly was a man capable of serial murder and the ability to lick his own anus hole. His eyes, his smile, and his voice were all iconic to the role of the man known as Luther, who puts officer Jack Ramsay through a lot of shit. Simmons' voice makes the name "Jack Ramsay" brand itself inside your brain. I'm sure I woke up once or twice as a kid after a nightmare in which I heard Gene say the name "RAMSAY!" over and over like an evil carnival barker who specializes in taming robot spiders.
Speaking of robot spiders, those are exactly what Luther uses as one of his main assassination weapons. Those creepy fuckers rattle and clack around, pouncing on their targets and injecting them with long hypodermic needles in lieu of fangs. Along with the spiders, the asshole also has to this day what I consider to be one of the best "bad guy movie weapons" with his gun that fires target-seeking bullets. The movie does a cool job of showing the point-of-view of the rather slow-traveling round as it is fired from his Robocop-like gun, all the way until it explodes into its target in sparks and seared flesh.
What I enjoyed most about the movie is the tension that is built between Gene Simmons and the two cops on his tail. Tom Selleck is in perfect Selleck form in this film, bringing his typical charm to the role as a single dad, all while working with his attractive, young female partner in Cynthia Rhodes (as a kid, she was one of the hot chicks I first noticed as I was growing (in more ways than one). The two cops are put through the ringer as they are hot on the tail of the assassin, all the way to a finale that gives people who suffer from vertigo and a fear of heights something to truly fear. The only down side to the film is that I constantly wanted Ramsay's son to be killed, because Joey Cramer was kind of a crappy child actor.
What's neat about Runaway and Crichton's screenplay is that he indulges in "futuristic" technology that, while looking dated thirty years later, still has aspects that still haven't been implemented into today's society; things that many people had thought would have been a mainstay by 2014. We get police officers with robot-killing lazer guns, heat-seeking handheld missile launchers, robot assassins in the form of wild life, household A.I. tech that can do human activities on its own free will, and a grid-like presence on the windshield of a car that can act as either a GPS or other guidance system.
Runaway is definitely a dated "futuristic" movie, but Crichton has created a quintessential cat-and-mouse tale that I've honestly seen in my life about twenty five times. Much like Bill Cosby: Himself (another film I mentioned in another blog about having seen over a dozen times as a kid), Runaway was a staple in my household not only because my mom has still to this day a tremendous crush on Tom Selleck, but because the movie kicks ass. The film was one of the first to be rated PG-13 in theaters, and the movie still has a hard edge that remains as probably the first real violent-and-gritty film that I saw as a kid growing up in the 80s.