Tuesday 6 September 2022

Movie Review: Runaway (1984)

A techno-thriller, Runaway predicts a robotics-dominated future, but suffers from immature writing and poor acting. 

In the near future, robots are in wide use throughout society. Police Sergeant Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck) and his new partner Officer Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes) are part of the specialist division in charge of tracking down and deactivating malfunctioning runaway robots. Ramsay is considered the best in the business, although a fear of heights compromises his abilities.

After a domestic duties robot malfunctions and brutally murders family members, Ramsay's investigation reveals an evil conspiracy by Dr. Charles Luther (Gene Simmons, of rock band Kiss fame) to sell dangerous "smart bullet" computer chips to terrorists. Ramsay and Thompson arrest Luther's assistant Jackie Rogers (Kirstie Alley), but Luther controls plenty of technological gadgets and will be difficult to stop.

While Runaway offers some mindless entertainment, every scene highlights eye-rolling incompetence buttressed by dreadful dialogue and stiff performances. Writer and director Michael Crichton is not even sure what the movie is about. What starts as a killer-robots-run-amok plot morphs into a smart bullets conspiracy, and neither is explained in any depth. The electronic bullets can apparently track victims around corners using heat profiles, although the frequent misses on display suggest a lot more development work is required to gain the attention of any serious terrorists.

The man behind the badness is Dr. Luther, and Gene Simmons steps out of the Kiss stage costumes to deliver a tasty villainous role. He does not say much, but his hooded-eye stare is enough to earn a first class creep label. Luther provides much better entertainment than the graceless romance between Ramsay and Thompson, which features a bewildering transformation inspired by Grease: Officer Thompson frizzes her hair and ditches her uniform for flirty dresses to persuade Ramsay she is worth a look.

Elsewhere, the lack of attention to any details includes a wooden Tom Selleck putting on plenty of body armour but zero head protection to deal with a rampaging appliance, while killer "spider" bots are unable to climb a short distance to threaten Ramsay's son, but suddenly scale great heights to attack dad. The overall brainlessness is a pity, because Crichton does offer prescient ideas about computer chips powering omnipresent civilian and law enforcement robotic hardware. That these smart machines want to run away from an insipid story is no surprise.

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