Monday, September 16, 2019

RUNAWAY (1984)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

Michael Crichton scored a double-threat in the seventies by both writing and directing successful thrillers like 1973's WESTWORLD and 1978's COMA. However, he didn't have as much success in the eighties, largely bombing out with both 1981's LOOKER and 1984's RUNAWAY, and didn't regain his Hollywood mojo until Spielberg adapted JURASSIC PARK in 1993.

RUNAWAY takes place in a near-future America wherein all sorts of robot-servants have become regular presences in both home and work environments. But because robots sometimes go haywire, even becoming "runaways," police departments have to have special officers trained in dealing with berserk mechanisms. Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes), a new lady cop joins the robot-patrol department, and so becomes the audience's viewpoint character as she learns about her duties and her new superior, laid-back "old hand" Ramsey (Tom Selleck). Ramsey tells Thompson that most of their duties in robot-stopping are mundane. Since this wouldn't make a good movie, Ramsey is almost immediately proven wrong when the two of them stumble across the plans of mad engineer Charles Luther (Gene Simmons) to sell forbidden technology on the black market. Luther programs robots to attack the investigators, though most of these killer mechanisms are small devices, ranging from tiny heat-seeking missiles and "spider robots." Kirstie Alley plays one of Luther's former allies, whom Ramsey must protect.

It's not hard to see why RUNAWAY tanked. Crichton's enthusiasm for the film's gimmicks resulted in a complete neglect of any interesting characters. Ramsey has a lovable kid and a complex about heights possibly borrowed from Hitchcock's VERTIGO. Thompson has a thing for Ramsey but he seems to like Kirstie's character better. Alley, who is no means a favorite of mine, nevertheless provides the only compelling acting in the film, with Selleck particularly proving soporific.

The film's only interest for me was that of giving TV's original "Magnum P.I." a SF-hero role, which was so underwhelming that I'm quite happy Selleck was not selected to play Indiana Jones.

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