Saturday, 20 September 2014

Sci-Fi September: Runaway (1984)

Michael Crichton was, from my limited exposure to his work, quite a brilliant mind. As a writer, he developed stories around core ideas that would predate their implementation and/or development in our real world. In the world of sci-fi, I'd mark him out as being just as prescient as any other leading name that you could throw in to the hat. He may have been simply competent as a director, but I think that was more a case of the tech never really being up to the speed of his visionary imagination. As is the case with Runaway.

Tom Selleck is a cop in the near future who specialises in dealing with runaway robots. It's such a big problem, for example, that he's flown by helicopter just to deal with a runaway farming robot that is not doing anyone any immediate harm. Selleck inhabits a world in which his priorities are his son (Joey Cramer), his job, and the need to mention his vertigo in a way that allows viewers to figure out where the finale might head. He's just been given a new partner (Cynthia Rhodes) in time to deal with a disturbing case - there's a bad man (Gene Simmons) trying to fit all robots with implants that would allow them to break their programming and kill lots of people.

Slightly hampered by the special effects available at the time, and also the fact that it's often hard to get all excited about, Runaway remains a lot of fun, despite the obvious flaws. It has robo-spiders, bullets that can trace individual targets, and Tom Selleck being his usual, charming self.

A number of scenes feel a bit flat, with Crichton highlighting the fact that he's a solid, not great, director. He can't do enough to liven up the moments that surround the few set-pieces, with domestic situations and the standard police procedural stuff making up the majority of the runtime.

The cast do their best with their characters. Selleck gets by simply by being his usual Selleck-ness, which has been good enough in pretty much anything he's ever done. Rhodes is a decent partner for him, Cramer is an acceptable cinematic moppet, and Stan Shaw and G. W. Bailey lend decent support in the police station environment. Kirstie Alley also makes a good impression, as a potential victim that the police (well, Selleck and Rhodes) are trying to keep alive. Simmons, on the other hand, is pretty awful, but he's awful in such an entertaining, over the top, way that it works for a villainous performance.

Very much a product of its time, I'll always have a soft spot for Runaway because I saw it at a young age, an age when I thought tracker bullets and robo-spiders were the coolest things ever. Admittedly, I've not matured much beyond that stage, so that may explain my enduring affection for the film. Or it might just remain an enjoyable slice of robo-hokum. Watch and decide for yourself.


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