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September 28, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #143 - Runaway

If you have a thing for robot bugs and mustaches, then there's never been a better movie for you than Runaway.  Fresh out of the Tom Selleck era of the 1980s, this is the tale of one cop, one terrorist, and a rogue's gallery of defective - or, as the title says, runaway - robots.  It's the kind of film that only the '80s could produce - complete with bad hairstyles, surprised topless women, and a hero who is unflappable in every way - that also borrows heavily from things like Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and The Jetsons.
Magnum P.I. The Guy Who Passed on Indiana Jones Tom Selleck stars as an incredibly manly police officer with a mustache Jack Ramsey, who knows more about robots than anyone else.  He used to be a normal manly cop, until he developed vertigo (and you gotta wonder if that's gonna come in to play later on....) which led him to embrace the challenges of dealing with robots that go awry in cornfields and construction sites and other harmless places.  But fate has its eyes on Jack and his new partner/love interest (played by the future Mrs. Richard Marx, Cynthia Rhodes), who soon find themselves dealing with the first homicide committed by a robot. Apparently somebody didn't teach Asimov's three laws.
That somebody comes in the form of criminal Charles Luther, played by a bare-faced Gene Simmons, who's both a) incredibly smart and b) cheesy enough to claim he's with 'Acme Robot Repairs' at one point.  The KISS legend is certainly trying to distance himself from his well-known persona here in his first big screen role.  The musician would go full terrorist later in the '80s, when he co-starred with Rutger Hauer in Wanted: Dead or Alive, but here he plays a little more like something out of a cartoon, complete with his army of robots that includes some six legged metal freaks.
The set up sounds pretty comical, and as I look at the film now - compared to the way I looked at it in the late '80s when I was a kid - it's easy to see how silly Runaway is.  Writer/director Michael Crichton - yes, that Michael Crichton - would direct only one more feature after this one, and comparisons between this and his debut masterwork Westworld show that time wasn't too kind to Crichton as a director.  While that film worked sly comedy into its gripping tension, this one feels a little more like a running inside joke on the audience than a tense thriller.
Of course, the thing any child of the '80s who experienced the film will first mention about Runaway is Luther's army of killer robot spiders. Even though they clearly have six legs, the film repeatedly refers to them as spiders.  I never noticed this until tonight, and I have to admit that it really bugs me right now. (And I apologize for that unintentional pun.)  But when I get past that realization, I can still see just how much those robo-spiders made my skin crawl when I was a kid.  A sequence in a public restroom has one of the metal creepers sneaking under a bathroom stall, and that image always kind of made me queasy.  And then there's the finale, which involves a construction site and an elevator and several of the metal buggers, which is still pretty tense thanks to the ominous robo-spiders.
Runaway won't win a lot of awards for depth or power, but it's still a pretty cool piece of '80s action with a goofy sci-fi kick thrown in.  Do you have to be from the '80s to get it? Maybe you do.  I mean, you probably don't have to be Marty McFly and actually travel from the '80s, but maybe you had to be there for Magnum P.I. and grizzled cop movies and that robot from Rocky IV.  You probably have to be younger than those old people who watch Selleck in those Jesse Stone movies too.  But there's a niche that should appreciate Runaway, and I'm glad I can be a part of it.  Because robot spiders are awesome.


Franco Macabro said...

Wanna give it a rewatch! Haven't seen it in decades!

: said...

I used to love this one, growing up. It's not a "good movie" in any way, shape, or form -- I'll be the first to admit that. But it sure is fun.

And, believe it or not, I used to think Gene Simmons was a pretty creepy villain in this one. I know now that he was just Gene Simmons being Gene Simmons, but I still like the character a lot.

Good 80s fun. What more can you ask for?