FROM THE VIDEO STORE GRAVEYARD: 'RUNAWAY (1984)'
What’s not to love about goofy, tech-noir thrillers from the 80s? Robotic home based assistants the size of filing cabinets, office cleaning droids armed with stun rays at some and a police force tasked with the deactivation malfunctioning bots in futuristic precincts fitted with microwave sized computer terminals. It’s all here and more in the 1984 thriller Runaway.
Lushly mustachioed Tom Selleck, riding from the TV ratings juggernaut known as Magnum P.I, stars with Cynthia Rhodes and Kirstie Alley, while author Michael Crichton, the Director of the original Westworld and Jurassic Park scribe, takes Writing and Directorial duties into a future where mankind lives in a society of automation and robotic help that doesn't sound too far off 2018 actually.
Runaway is one of those wonderfully goofy movies that naively wondered how we'd interact with technology in such an 80s way, positing a police division devoted to cops heading out to construction sites, office buildings and even corn fields to disconnect malfunctioning robots (aka Runways), more often that not resulting in clearly amateurish techniques like diving on them or as targets for office furniture projectiles. Selleck as Sergeant Ramsey, clearly a superstar in the area of robot enforcement, is called in to defuse a homicidal robot home assistant (that has somehow learned to wield a revolver) leading him into the path of Luther, a former defense contractor who wants to profit from robots gone awry. The stakeout scene in itself is wonderfully hilarious as Selleck, in his pursuit of a baby in distress, dons a kevlar looking jersey designed to scramble the maniac robot’s tracking signals, but not before an over zealous TV camera man predictably puts duty before common sense to wander into the path of a hail of bullets.
Around about this time we get to meet Gene Simmons in his feature film debut. The Kiss frontman plays the evil Luther who just can't help leering at anything with a pulse, be it Selleck, his unfortunate former lover played by Kirstie Alley, or the audience in general. His moving mugshot evokes all the fires of hell via Simmons eyes, clearly doing his hardest to ooze pure villain. He succeeds quite amicably actually, coming across as a right asshat who doesn’t care who he’s shooting heat seeking bullets at (yup, he’s got a clip of those).
Aesthetically, the tech itself is deliciously retro. Office cleaning robots programmed to tase office workers who've decided to stay late, a vacuum cleaner like device seems to be advanced police detection unit, a compact harvesting machine that apparently a half dozen corn farmers can't control, and mechanical spiders armed with needles for injecting acid into their victims (naturally). Helping the Police tasked with malfunctioning robots (robots seem to go on the fritz on an almost hourly basis in this future), is a headquarters tricked out with aforementioned clunky computer screens and run by 80s favorite G.W Bailey (long suffering Lieutenant Harris from the Police Academy series).
Our climax peaks when Luther kidnaps Ramsey’s son, played by Joey Cramer (the kid from Flight of The Navigator), is held hostage atop a construction site, playing with Ramsey’s fear of heights, with added peril from those pesky acid laced mechanical spiders. Unfortunaltey Cramer didn’t get out of the child acting stint unscathed, ending up as a bank robber and serving jail time after his arrest in 2016. Things turned out a little better for his character as Ramsey stages a successful rescue and a grizzly end for Luther who, complete with glorious screams only a Kiss frontman could muster, takes the brunt of the clunky spiders that would come across as rather unthreatening if it weren’t for their leaping abilities.
Thankfully, Runways is a pure 80s treat, made consistently, unintentionally funny by way of taking itself and the tech seriously, but not being so cheap that it skimps on well constructed chases and set pieces. The spider nasties deliver a nice bout of menace as Selleck dangles from his underneath an elevator and Simmon’s pursuit of our hero by way of advanced bullets that lock onto a victims heat signature gives us plenty of zooming POV shots. Oh and we should give extra points for the filmmakers attempt at self-driving police cars, even if the front seat is taken up with a mannequin policeman and a bunch of hydraulics pushing the pedals.
From a time when the 80s were obsessed with robots as TV sidekicks, Runway is a goofy way to kill an hour and a half.