In the mid 1980’s three actors, who had made a big impact on television, playing detectives, were trying to make the transition from the small screen to the big screen. The three were Tom Selleck, who had major success as Magnum P.I.; Pierce Brosnan, who had a good run as Remmington Steele; and finally there was Bruce Willis, who’d played David Addison in Moonlighting. Well Bruce stumbled a couple of times, with Sunset and Blind Date, before landing on his feet with Die Hard. Pierce on the other hand started off okay with The Fourth Protocol but then had a string of stinkers. Well Tom’s rise to fame had been a bit slower than the others. He’d been acting since the late 60’s and had seen his fair share of flops. In fact he had been in 6 failed TV pilots before he broke through with Magnum. So now at the peak of his popularity, he attempted to break into movies.
It has been well documented, that Selleck was the first choice for Indiana Jones, but somehow that didn’t come to fruition. So it would seem strange that his first attempt to break it into the big time was in the Indiana Jones inspired High Road To China. I am sure it wasn’t a flop, but it wasn’t a run away smash either. Next up was Lassiter. I can’t remember much about it – it seemed boring at the time. That brings us to Runaway, Selleck’s third attempt at breaking into the big time.
Runaway is set in the not too distant future – that being the not too distant future in 1984 – but strangely in what now would be the past, many of the futuristic inventions in this movie have not come to pass. Anyway, in ‘yesterday’s tomorrow’ mankind has come to depend on robots in almost every aspect of daily life. There are domestic robots in the home, agricultural robots in the field, sentry robots in offices, and industrial robots on work sites. When these robots malfunction, the police are called…often because insurance companies will not let average citizens switch off the machines when they play up. The police have their own little department to deal with these ‘Runaways’. The department is headed by Sergeant Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck), and he has just been assigned a new partner, Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes).
Just to make the film a little more interesting, they have given Ramsay a slight impediment. He gets vertigo. And as we all know dear reader (if we’ve studied our Hitchcock), if the hero of a film suffers from vertigo, then the climax of the film has to take place in a high open environment, where the hero has an opportunity to freak out, or overcome his fears.
Ramsay and Thompson’s first job of the day is an agricultural pest controller that has run amok in a field of corn. They deal with this by blowing it up. Their next call isn’t so simple though. A domestic robot has gone mad inside a house. It has grabbed a knife and killed two people. Still inside the house there is a ten month old baby, and somehow, the robot has grabbed a gun. Ramsay decides to go in and rescue the baby. Incredulously, a TV cameraman decides to follow Ramsay into the house to film the thrilling rescue. But the robot has other ideas and shoots the cameraman. Eventually Ramsay out manoeuvres the robot and shuts it down. Ramsay exits the house with the child, but the child’s father, David Johnson (Chris Mulkey) has run off. He appears to be afraid of something or some one.
The following day, the killer robot is checked be the police department’s resident boffin, Marvin (Stan Shaw). Inside he finds a non-standard chip. The robot has been programmed to kill. The isn’t a robot gone mad. This is murder! Ramsay heads back to the house and searches for some evidence or a lead. As he checks the door recorder (it records footage of the people at your front door), he finds a portion of a partially erased message. It is a man claiming to be from the ACME Robot Repair Company, and he has come to repair the domestic robot. Ramsay deduces that this must be the guy who changed the chip inside the robot.
The man on the recording is Dr. Luther (Gene Simmons from the rock group KISS). Luther has been busy. He has had two men making him a batch of ‘evil’ chips that he can auction off to the mafia, terrorists or any other person with the cash and an unpleasant disposition. One of the men who made the chips just happens to David Johnson, the owner of the house where the robot went mad. It appears that Luther is tying up the loose ends. The robot was meant to kill Johnson too.
As Ramsay is a good police officer, he tracks down Johnson, who is hiding in a hotel. As he tries to bring him back to the station for questioning, Luther pops up and fires a gun at them. It is a special gun that fires special bullets. These are smart bullets that are a bit like heat seeking missiles, and they can go around corners.
The film surprisingly hasn’t dated too badly. There’s one or two 80’s haircuts on a couple of the girls, but generally this film doesn’t look like it was made nearly 25 years ago. The biggest hint to it’s age is the absolutely dreadful score by Jerry Goldsmith. Look I love Goldsmith’s orchestral work, but this electronic mess, which they proudly proclaim in the end titles was done on Yamaha Digital Instruments, is one of his weakest scores.
The acting in the film is better than it should be. Selleck conveys genuine emotion, and almost seems to ‘tear up’ when he has to let Luther go, because he is holding a hostage. Another sequence where the acting is good, is when Ramsay has to dig an unexploded mini-missile from Thompson’s shoulder. Surprisingly, Gene Simmons is okay too. Sure, all he has to do is glare and look menacing – but he glares rather well.
In the end, Runaway isn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t a blockbuster for Tom Selleck either. He never really became a big star like Bruce Willis or Pierce Brosnan. But he is a jobbing actor, and if you look him up on IMDB you can see that he has been consistently working since then. But for a second, he looked like he could have been the next big thing.
The trailer – uploaded to Youtube by: ChrisTaylorHungary