Tuesday, January 4, 2011


You might know this: Tom Selleck would have been cast as the lead in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but a television pilot he made was picked up by a network, so he became Magnum, P.I. and Harrison Ford eventually became Indiana Jones.  That's not a rumor; screen tests exist and I've seen them.  Raiders would have been a substantially different movie with Selleck in the lead, but it probably would have still been a huge success --- even if that screen test was godawful.  Perhaps he was trying to capture the cinema glory that narrowly evaded him three years earlier or maybe he was just bored, but Selleck managed to make a movie during one of the filming breaks for Magnum, and the result was the 1984 smash hit, Runaway.

It was a hit, right?  I mean, Selleck was uber popular and was rocking one of the best mustaches of the 80s.  The film was written and directed by bestselling author Michael Crichton, who also wrote and directed Westworld, which was pretty cool.  How could that pairing go wrong?  I mean, aside from casting Gene Simmons as the villain.  And setting the film in the near future.  And making Selleck a cop in the low-priority department of domestic robot malfunctions.  Did I mention Gene Simmons acts in this movie?

I'm going to be up front with you on this one.  Don't watch Runaway.  If you do watch it, bring some funny friends and, if you are of legal age, some cheap beer, because this movie requires creative assistance to make it entertaining.  That said, I'm going to include SPOILERS below, because...why not?  Knowing what happens won't ruin the suspense because there is none.

In the ill-defined, but presumably near future, everybody has robots in their home and/or workplace.  I'm not talking cool robots, like Optimus Prime, or even Rosie from The Jetsons.  No, these robots range in size from an office trash can to a kitchen trash can.  They don't have faces, or screens, or anything resembling personalities; they are boxes on wheels with appendages to perform their assigned tasks.  Every so often, these robots malfunction; the problem is that the robots are so strong that they pose a danger to humans or property when they cross a wire.  Malfunctioning robots are called runaways, for reasons that are never defined in the film, and they are handled by the local police.

As you can imagine, turning off animated trash cans is not the most glorious job for a police officer, but Sgt. Jack Ramsey (Tom Selleck) likes the autonomy and the lack of life-and-death situations that the job requires.  Great.  Our hero enjoys the most boring department in the police force.  He is assigned a new partner, Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes), because every cop movie needs a new partner (unless it's a sequel) to show off how awesome the veteran cop is.  And boy, is he awesome.  We learn three things about Ramsey right away: he is afraid of heights, he is grumpy with new partners, and he is like the San Antonio Spurs of robot police work --- effective, but dull to watch.  Fantastic.  So let's spice things up a bit.  Enter Charles Luther (Gene Simmons), a man so evil that his every look undresses you with his eyes...and, knowing Simmons, probably his tongue, too.  Actually, Luther looks kind of like a horny Jon Lovitz.
Jon Lovitz, eye-raping you
Charles Luther, aroused by the scent of your fear

Anyway, Luther has found a way to control normally harmless robots and make them kill people.  And he has created an army of killer spider robots.  And he has invented a rocket bullet that can turn corners, go down pipes, turn around and then explode in you --- all because it has locked onto your unique heat signature.  Sounds like Ramsey is in for some trouble, eh?  Well, against all odds, Luther opts not to shoot a super bullet at Ramsey or program his house robot to kill.  Instead, he sicks three or four spiderbots on him.  Man, that was a depressing sentence to write.  Not as depressing as owning up to the fact that I watched this whole thing, but sad, nonetheless.  But maybe the spiders look awesome, right?

Nope, not this cool.
Yeah, I wish!
Where does this movie fail?  You can start with Tom Selleck.  Personally, I like the guy just fine, but he's not much of an actor.  Sometimes, though, he's entertaining enough.  Here, he's not given much to work with.  He's grumpy and hates heights.  Add his mustache to those traits, and you have a three-dimensional character.  And, whenever he chooses to, he can take control of large police operations, despite being a third of the least important department in the police force.  That might be because his chief is G.W. Bailey, the crotchety guy from the Police Academy movies.  I assume that his character's tendency to get bossed around by Ramsey is all part of an intricate plot to finally get that darn Mahoney in trouble.  If not, then I have no explanation for his actions.  Cynthia Rhodes, who you might remember as the pregnant one in Dirty Dancing, manages to act in a movie and not dance at all, for a change.  It turns out that was a poor choice.

And then there's Gene Simmons.  When you cast The Demon to play in your movie, you're not paying him to be subtle.  Still, he could not have been any more one-dimensional if he had his Kiss makeup on.  He wasn't just a bad guy, he was MWA-HA-HA eeeveeel.  His performance is pretty bad, but his character is absolutely ridiculous.  So, the guy is obviously a genius, since he invented all that cool stuff, right?  At one point, he kidnaps Ramsey's son (Joey Cramer) to get Ramsey to meet him somewhere; Luther sets a trap to kill the first person to enter an area, and he was assuming that the kid would be the one to leave first.  Why does the kid need to die?  So there won't be any witnesses to his eeeveeel plot.  But the police all know exactly who Luther is and what he's doing, and Luther knows that because he hacked into the police station and heckled them.  Okay, fine, let's ignore that stupidity --- maybe he's just a jerk.  But Luther tells Ramsey that robot spiders will kill the first person into an area --- what's the optimal scenario here?  Ramsey, Jr. dies and Ramsey Sr. escapes?  Ramsey Sr. sacrifices himself and Ramsey Jr. lives?  You're still left with a witness and possible hero to deal with!  Stupid genius!

There's just so much that's awful about this movie, and it starts from the cheesy music throughout the film, to the it's-the-future-but-everything-looks-just-like-the-80s production values, to the the-bad-guy-looks-dead-but-has-one-scare-left-in-him horror ending.  Do you want to know why Ramsey isn't on the regular police force, despite being a sergeant?  This is the reason audiences are supposed identify with his character, so you know it has to be good!  Well, Ramsey was chasing a criminal (apparently without backup, of course) and the criminal went into a construction zone, where he climbed up a bit --- remember, Ramsey is acrophobic --- and Ramsey couldn't make himself follow.  Later that night, the criminal butchered a family of six.  Because that's what criminals do after a narrow escape from the police: they have a blood orgy.  Idiotic.

And what about the never-miss rocket bullets?  Well, they never miss, unless they are fired at important characters, who somehow evade them with the help of tipped-over tables.  Yes, the magic bullet that can make a U-turn, fly through a tube, go under and over things, and make sharp 90-degree turns is fooled by a table.  Ridiculudicrous.

I don't even want to get into the chemistry-free romance that includes Ramsey rubbing her nose with his acid-stained hand.  Or Ramsey's protective codpiece.  Or the fact that, despite Ramsey's vertigo being mentioned frequently, there are no classic "vertigo" camera shots.

I just reread some of the stupid things in this movie, and now I kind of want to go back and watch it again.  Is that wrong?

This film could be Lefty Gold, though...but I doubt it's even that.  Maybe Lefty Bronze.  In the so-good-it's-bad rating, Runaway earns

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