Peter’s Retro Movie Review: Runaway (1986)

April 17, 2012

Runaway (1984) Movie posterby Peter Nielsen

In the not too distant future most of the ”boring” daily chores are taken care of by robots in all shapes and sizes. Everything from cooking and cleaning in your home, to helping out and making life simpler in offices and factories. Ok, so robots in factories isn’t exactly science fiction and hasn’t been for a long time, but household robots to this extent is still a long ways off.

Unfortunately, as every other household appliance, they also break down once in a while and if they turn into a threat to the public when they DO… there’s a special branch on the police force to take care of these runaways. Officer Ramsay is specialized in this field and is the man they call upon for the tricky cases. Portraying him is the amazing Tom Selleck (Folks!, Her Alibi, Lassiter), an actor I’ve always liked since I first saw him in Magnum P.I. a long time ago. He’s somewhat of an under-appreciated actor, I think, certainly capable of doing most parts. I’ve seen him in everything from comedy to action, thriller and drama and he nails it every time. Don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a horror movie though.

He’s assigned a new assistant in Officer Thompson, played by Cynthia Rhodes (Dirty Dancing, Flashdance), who’s a bit enamored by Ramsay. Their love-affair slowly builds throughout the movie with Ramsay being a bit awkward and also a bit shy around her, I think. He’s a widower with a young son and outside of work-related chit-chat has a problem conveying his feelings towards her. Maybe problem is a strong word, but you know what I mean… he’s basically like a big kid and Mr. Selleck is fantastic here. As I said before, he really is a great actor and there are a few small scenes between him and Cynthia Rhodes that work extremely well. A little humanity amongst the science-fiction part of the story, if you will.

Officers Thompson and Ramsay

Officers Thompson and Ramsay

Ok, so let’s get back to the MAIN story, shall we? It turns out that on some of the cases the robots actually kill people and it all seems to lead back to one man. A very dangerous man called Luther! He’s invented a computer chip that turns everyday robots into potential killing machines. He has an arsenal of cool and very lethal gadgets at his disposal, like a gun that shoots small heat-seeking missiles, and also scary mechanical spiders with hypodermic needles that inject acid when jumping at you. Nasty things!

Luther is played by a man who can make you feel VERY uncomfortable just by staring at you. Runaway was his first movie-role and Gene Simmons, from the rock-group KISS, is perfect as the ruthless businessman. He would later go on to play leading roles in Wanted Dead or Alive and Trick or Treat for instance.

Menacing gadgets!

Menacing gadgets!

I seem to remember reading an interview with Mr. Simmons in regards to Runaway where he said that because Tom Selleck was such a nice guy, it was hard to work up a level of anger, or to be menacing towards him. So he had to find something annoying to focus on… What he finally settled on was Mr. Selleck’s famous mustache. I have no idea how much truth there is to that story, but it’s an amusing little anecdote.

Oops… I kind of got away from the story again. Sorry! So, the prototypes to these computer chips has been manufactured elsewhere, so Luther sends his girlfriend, Jackie, to steal both them and the templates to make more. He wouldn’t be much of a villain if he actually intended to pay for them, now would he? I’m not going to divulge too much here, but one half of the templates falls into the hands of Ramsay and Luther naturally wants it back! People get killed, some are taken hostage and all sorts of gadget shenanigans ensue… There are a lot of those unpleasant spiders around too! I did mention they were nasty, didn’t I?

Luther with his missile gun!

Luther with his missile gun!

Jackie is played by Kirstie Alley (Shoot to Kill, Sibling Rivalry) by the way. There are other recognizable names and faces in Runaway too. As Ramsay’s other partner, Marvin, you’ll see Stan Shaw (The Monster Squad, Harlem Nights) and as their chief you’ll most certainly recognize G.W. Bailey from some of the Police Academy movies or maybe from Short Circuit. In a small role as one of the scientists helping Luther we see Chris Mulkey (The Hidden, The Long Riders).

I first watched this at our local theater (Man, I miss that place!) and I remember thinking this was very cool, what with all the robots and gadgets and stuff. I still think it’s a great movie, one I find myself returning to from time to time, and you know what? I STILL think those damn gadgets are cool! It’s got a nice score too! Jerry Goldsmith made his first all-electronic score for this one and he did a very good job with it.

The director, Michael Crichton, is a man who’s not only recognized as a director (Westworld, Looker, Physical Evidence), but also as a successful writer (The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, The First Great Train Robbery). So, between the actors, the composer and the director you’re in capable hands and it’s in those hands I’ll leave you…

So until next time, my friends, please leave your thoughts on Runaway in the comments below. We love hearing what you think about ALL the movies we discuss here on the site!

Retro Movie Geek © 2015