In RUNAWAY's not-so-distant future, many families use domestic robots to handle their common household chores. Occasionally, one of those robots goes awry. When it does, its owners call the Runaway Squad, a special branch of the police department that handles out-of-control robots.
Usually, these robots are harmless and can be easily handled by flipping a switch. So it’s unusual when officer Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck, starring in MAGNUM, P.I. at the time) and his new partner Karen Thompson (supercute Cynthia Rhodes) arrive at a house where the family’s domestic robot has stabbed the wife to death and is holding a baby hostage with a .357 Magnum.
More robots are turning murderous, and Ramsay discovers they’ve been modified with a special chip developed by a nut named Luther (KISS’ Gene Simmons in his acting debut). Luther covers his tracks by bumping off his associates with exploding robot spiders and explosive bullets that can turn corners.
For a best-selling author, Crichton does not write a good screenplay. RUNAWAY is full of really dumb plotholes, and its futuristic premise doesn’t stand up very well. For instance, it isn’t explained very well why the police force would be responsible for handling malfunctioning household appliances. And if the robots screw up so much that a special police unit has to be created to deal with them, why would anybody want to own one?
Crichton is much better staging action sequences, which are put together with some pop. A freeway chase between Selleck in a car with a robot driver, a bunch of tiny explosive drones on wheels, and Rhodes driving another car and zapping the drones with a trunk laser is just dopey enough to be awesome.
Crichton and cinematographer John Alonzo (CHINATOWN) move the camera a lot to jazz up the pace, and Selleck takes his role just seriously enough to sell the far-fetched plot. An underrated performer (Thomas Magnum is one of television’s great dramatic characters), Selleck handles the drama and action chores like a pro, even when stalking a two-foot-tall corn detasseler that looks about as dangerous as a Roomba.
The huggable Rhodes (DIRTY DANCING), who soon after left acting to raise a family with pop singer Richard Marx, and a pre-CHEERS Alley gamely allow themselves to be rescued a few times. Bailey (POLICE ACADEMY) and Shaw (TNT JACKSON) are stuck in cop-cliché roles, but acquit themselves professionally. Simmons as the sneering heavy (“The templates, Ramsay!”) delivers the film’s most delicious performance, rightfully figuring going way over the top was appropriate for a villain controlling an army of robot spiders.
Tri-Star’s Christmas 1984 release was not a success, opening behind the debuting DUNE, STARMAN, and THE COTTON CLUB at the weekend box office. It grossed even less than Selleck’s earlier action films HIGH ROAD TO CHINA and LASSITER, but his next, the frothy comedy THREE MEN AND A BABY, was a bonafide smash.