Run Way Review
Posted February 23, 2009on:
It’s surprising, twenty-five years later, how well Runaway has aged. Not because it is anything close to prescient in its vision of the future, or because it is so well-executed technically that it stands ahead of its contemporaries. Instead, Michael Crichton’s movie about cops chasing robots run amok holds up is because, despite its low-fi trappings, it manages to put together a world the audience can believe in.
Sgt. Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck) is a Chicago Police Department officer assigned to handling robots. It’s not glamorous work, more like animal control than anything else, but he’s gotten to be the best in the department at it. He and new partner Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes) are called in to deal with a malfunctioning domestic robot, and an extra chip inside leads them to Dr. Charles Luther (Gene Simmons) and Jackie Rogers (Kirstie Alley), who may have the answers behind a rash of robot-related incidents.
Michael Crichton writes and directs, and he makes the choice of not setting the film too far in the future (as seen from 1984). Cars, hairstyles, clothing, etc., are thus all from the mid-eighties, rather than anything particularly futuristic (which generally means, the current time period only more so!); Ramsay mentions that one of the older robots they corral is still running on an 8088-series processor (the kind the then-current IBM PCs used; the IBM PC AT with its 80286 chip had just been introduced). Give Chrichton credit for not having robotics technology make the immediate leap to self-aware androids, but the robots themselves do often look cobbled-together, not so much like a mass-produced product.
That’s the big problem with Runaway: Even for 1984, it looks cheap. Crichton’s got good ideas, but the execution is kind of shoddy, and not just in special effects. Crichton piles a cute kid, two potential love interests, guilt over a dead hostage, and crippling vertigo onto Ramsay. It’s a bit much at times, even though it’s seldom overwhelming.
Part of that’s because Tom Selleck is good at selling it; it’s surprising he never had much of a career outside of Magnum, P.I., because he does a fine job of making the unreal or potentially trite believable. Gene Simmons is suitably crazed as the villain. Cynthia Rhodes is likable enough as Selleck’s partner, though Kirstie Alley is kind of annoying as the woman they recruit to help bring down Simmons.
Despite all its faults, Runaway holds together. It shouldn’t; it should seem incredibly dated and tacky. Instead, it has a sort of understated charm.