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It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie

Runaway (1984)

[3.5 turkeys]

Has Tom Selleck ever been in anything good? I mean, except for maybe Magnum, P.I. If Tom Selleck starring in a low budget SF movie isn't enough to make you want to watch this, then Gene Simmons of KISS as the bad guy should do the trick. Two things of note here: Kirstie Allie is in this movie, but she is billed below Gene Simmons, which I found quite amusing. Also, it was written and directed by Michael Crichton, which tells me that Crichton should stick to novels.

The setup is this. It's the "future," and robots are everywhere. They do construction, they work on farms gathering crops, they're household servants, they drive cars -- in fact, they seem pretty well sentient to me, although that point is never addressed.

Tom Selleck stars as Ramsay, a cop who specializes in "runaways," or robots who have gone bad in some way and are doing what they wish. Right off, I have a huge problem with this. First of all, if you want a robot that picks bugs off plants, you build a robot that knows how to do exactly one thing -- pick bugs off plants. You DON'T build an apparently sentient robot and tell it to go de-bug plants. First, because it's EASIER, and second, when the one-task robot malfunctions, it's much more likely to just stop working, or miss the bugs and pick leaves off plants, than it is to lead two cops on a greased pig race through a corn field while it tries to "escape." Then you wouldn't need an entire division of the police force dedicated to running them down.

But, the people of the "future" aren't as smart as I am, apparently. And yes, Ramsay and his new partner Karen have to chase a malfunctioning bug-picker robot through a corn field in an early scene. Karen finds the robot first (it's a little tank-like thing about the size of an old Tonka truck with one gripping arm that it uses to pick bugs with) and hoists it over her head in triumph. "Yaaaaaaaay," she shouts, in the most out-of-place monotone voice -- it sounded more like she was being sarcastic than genuinely excited about catching the robot. The robot shoots off sparks (a common theme in this movie -- all robots can shoot off sparks at will, or will shoot off sparks when damaged, however slightly) and she is forced to drop it, while the farmers who are gathered around heckle her. (Here's another thing -- why do people need the COPS to come and take care of these robots? It's not like the cops have any special equipment to deal with them, apart from a few gadgets we see later that don't seem to do anything anyway. They just run around and try to jump on them. I guess the farmers would rather stand around heckling the cops than get dirty themselves, though. Hey, I guess that's only natural.)

Ramsay and Karen run around some more chasing the robot, until finally they capture it by jumping up into the air and flopping on it. It's a ludicrous visual that had me laughing out loud. By the way, Ramsay informs us that this apparently sentient (or at least really really clever) bug-picker robot is powered by "an old 8088 processor." COOL! I'm going to buy up a whole mess of those things (I think they're worth about six cents each now) and build a truckload of bug-picker robots!! I'll make a killing! I'll even teach people the proper technique for belly-flopping on them when they get out of control.

Oh, also, Ramsay doesn't like heights.

Back at the station, Karen tries to find out why Ramsay is on "runaway" duty instead of the "regular force." It turns out that it's the old cop cliche whereby the cop chases some random baddy into a building, but the baddy gets away because the cop has some random phobia (in this case, heights). Later that night, the random baddy brutally murders six people, so the cop feels guilty and transfers to the robot section and becomes a robot expert. Stupid cliches.

While somebody is infodumping this to us, a call comes over the police radio to the station about a "709" occurring. Everyone in the whole station looks grim except Karen, who asks, "What's a 709?"

"That means people have died," says random grim cop. Apparently Karen slept through the dispatch codes lesson at the Police Academy. Also, I guess the cops have a code for something as vague as "people have died."

Ramsay and Karen go off to the scene of the 709 and find a model 912 domestic robot going on a rampage in somebody's house. It's already killed two people (a woman and her daughter), and there is a ten month old baby inside that police assume it's going for next. It killed the women with a knife, but now apparently it has a .357 magnum pistol that it's toying around with.

Ramsay goes in after it, after talking to the really bad actor they got to play the father (who wasn't home at the start of this rampage) and then donning his "electromagnetic scatter suit," whatever that might be. It has absolutely no effect on anything as near as I can tell, other then to make him look like the blue Power Ranger. Before going into the house, Ramsay tells off a camera crew. Apparently, the robot picks up all forms of electromagnetic waves, so he'll know where Ramsay is if they keep the camera on him. See this is another example of over-building. When you build a domestic robot, I can see building in things that'd make it able to cook toast and sweep the floor and stuff. But why do you equip it with an antenna and the ability to not only receive but interpret these signals?

Anyway, Ramsay goes in, and of course a camera man walks right by like fifty cops and follows him into the house. Naturally, since all cop movies (and most movies in general) portray the media as careless, heartless, and evil, the cameraman gets shot in the head in short order. Ramsay walks around the house looking for the rampaging robot while getting shot at through the walls and stuff. Thankfully, this .357 magnum handgun has suddenly morphed into a pump-action shotgun, if the sound is any indication, allowing Ramsay to get out of the way of each shot because he's tipped off by the LOUD cocking noise the gun makes before it fires. Ramsay finally shoots the robot with his laser gun, and we see that this rampaging, out of control, murdering robot is about a foot high, shaped like a vacuum cleaner, and has but a single arm that now holds the mighty-morphin pistol. This, of course, makes me wonder how he killed the first two women with the kitchen knife? He can't reach any higher then their knees. What did he do, hamstring them and then cut them up?

Ramsay goes home to his son and house robot named Lois. The house robot is hilarious. It's about three feet tall and seems to be made out of random electronic equipment stacked in a big pile. Its head looks like a stereo receiver or maybe a VCR. And it's an annoying tattle-tale, too, to the point where it tattles on ITSELF.

"Bobby is eating a chocolate bar. His dinner, too, was nutritionally inadequate."

"Well, what did you feed him?"

"Hot dogs!"

"Lois, you can't always give him hot dogs!"

"It was all he would accept!"

Also, this particular house robot is able to sense minute fluctuations in the surrounding electromagnetic field, because it tattles on Bobby when he turns on his clearly battery powered television -- "There is a power surge from Bobby's room."

Next day at the station, Ramsay and the local techie Marvin are examining the house robot that went insane the night before. Marvin looks at a random chip he finds inside that isn't factory standard and can tell that it includes "hardwired instructions." I wish I was that l33t. I'd love to be able to look at an unmarked chip and say, "Oh, this is a Phoenix BIOS, Rev" And not be lying, that is. Of course, the robot randomly explodes, as robots, even ones that should no longer have power supplies, are wont to do.

The next call, Ramsay and Karen go out on is at a construction site. Ramsay won't go up into the skeleton of the building, so Karen goes up and flips a switch and shuts off the rampaging construction robot. Again, WHY DO THEY NEED COPS FOR THIS?

Ramsay and Karen then head over to the house from the night before, where an investigation is going on. Ramsay checks out the "door recorder," which apparently does for your doorbell what an answering machine does for your phone -- people come over, ring the bell, and, if you're not home, leave a video message. The recorder shows some random woman, a random guy who leaves a scared message for the father of the family to "meet him at the office," and GENE SIMMONS. The best part about Gene Simmons is that his idea of acting is to really bug out his eyes and look all crazy in every scene. Anyway, Gene leaves a half-finished message, and the tape cuts out. Somehow, it got erased or something. This is never explained, but it's "very mysterious."

Now, a scene in Dr. Luther's (Gene Simmons) lab: The guy who left the scared message on the door recorder is trying to get paid by Luther for the chips he apparently built for him. Luther takes the chips but finds that they're not all there. Plus, the templates to build more chips are not there either. Random guy says they're locked in a company safe and he'll give Luther the key when he pays him. So Luther shows him a suitcase full of money and takes the key from him. However, just then, a sentry robot goes by in the hall. "Sentry on rounds!!" shouts random guy and looks, horrified, out the window of the office door. Wait, doesn't he WORK here? Why is he scared of the sentry robots?? Anyway, the sentry goes by, and now Dr. Luther has disappeared. But he's left the suitcase full of money, so random guy opens it -- and finds that only the top bill is real. The rest are apparently lottery tickets. Suddenly, this small spider robot, about the size of a tarantula, jumps on him and explodes. Just then, the father of the family who got whacked walks by the office door, looks in at his slowly cooking buddy with the remains of the spider thing on his face, and wisely runs for it.

Ramsay is apparently looking for the father too, because he and Karen track him to a flee-bitten hotel. Ramsay kicks in the door, and father shoots at him twice before realizing it's the cops and not Dr. Luther.

"You are the cops!" he says dumbly.

"What were you expecting?" says Ramsay.

"Nobody." That was convincing.

Ramsay takes father outside and starts to put him in the cop car, but father sees Luther standing on the corner and makes a run for it. Ramsay chases him through an alley, and Luther chases them both with this HUGE handgun. Why do the baddies always get the coolest weapons?

The chase goes on for a bit, then Luther fires his cool gun. The rocket-bullet goes flying around corners and through tunnels and stuff (pretty cool camera effects here) and finally kills father when it hits him and explodes. That was actually pretty neat.

So Ramsay finds out where father and random guy worked and goes to Vetrocom. He logs into their system and calls up father's file but finds it quite useless. I'm not sure what he was hoping to find. Anyway, they get a call about a runaway while they're there with the security guard. The security guard simultaneously gets a call, which makes the whole scene very muddled, but it's all sorted out when we find out that the robot in question is right here in Vectrocom.

Turns out a sentry robot has executive secretary Kirstie Allie trapped at her desk and wont let her leave. Ramsay finds out that the only weapon the sentry robot has is a mild Taser. Wow, great security. So Ramsay goes in after the secretary. After getting zapped with the Taser several times and destroying two or three computer monitors as a distraction, he finally goes in for the dramatic kill -- by throwing his jacket over the sentry robot and bashing it repeatedly with a chair. Nice! Again, it takes highly trained cops to do this?

Ramsay tries to put the moves on Jackie (Kirstie Allie), but she accidentally dumps some microchips out of her purse. She has some extremely loose lips too, as she immediately screams it was Luther who sent her and that he said he'd kill her the same way he killed Johnson (father) and all the others. Great. Not every day you just stumble onto a lead like this. Especially when all you thought you were here to do was bash a few robots.

So Jackie goes off on Luther, and Ramsay finds out he's holed up at the Ritz hotel. He and Karen take off. Apparently, they must have radioed ahead or something, because by the time they get there two other cops are there. Luther is in the room with two guys and two women, they say, and Ramsay takes it upon himself to go in after him, even though there are not, technically, any rampaging robots inside and he does not, technically, have any reason to be going in other than the word of one random secretary.

No matter. In he goes, and he and Karen have a standoff with Luther. Again, Simmons does some wonderful acting by way of blinking his eyes up at a floater robot that is hovering near the ceiling. The hover robot sprays tear gas all over the room, and Luther pulls out his gun and starts shooting people up. Karen gets it, and both of the men that he was there with get it, and then he grabs the woman and holds her hostage. The funny thing is, only Ramsay seems to have been affected by the tear gas, since his eyes are all red and teary and, well, nobody else's are. Luther runs for it up to the roof with the woman, Ramsay in pursuit, but Luther gets in a conveniently waiting helicopter and takes off.

Ramsay goes downstairs with the woman. The press has arrived, of course, and so has the chief of police, who is yelling and screaming at Ramsay. Ramsay pays little attention, however, and goes in to check on Karen. Apparently the rocket-bullet that hit her didn't explode; it's just embedded in her arm. So of course, rather than let the robot surgeon/explosives expert robot take care of it, Ramsay decides to take the explosive out himself. So he demands, "Tesla shields and blast pads," neither of which ever show up, and goes to work. Apparently, judging by the convenient X-ray screen that we can see but Ramsay can't, he's taking the bullet out the hard way. It looks like the thing went into her forearm and started to come out the other end. So you'd think he'd grab the bullet by the exposed end and pull it the rest of the way through. But no, of COURSE he opts to ram his tweezers through the wound and draw the bullet all the way back out. Remind me never to let this guy operate on me. Especially when there's a perfectly good demolitions expert/surgeon robot on hand. Anyway, Ramsay gets the bullet out and throws it over his shoulder into the bar area where it explodes. Because whenever there are explosives in a movie like this, they have to go off. You can't have the guy just take the explosive out and put it carefully in a pan. No, he's got to THROW IT HAPHAZARDLY OVER HIS SHOULDER SO IT CAN GO OFF. Good thing nobody was standing there or anything.

Later, at the hospital, Ramsay asks Karen out on a date. Except he's really not. She's all excited when she thinks it's a date but then burns him when he tries to make it look like he's not really asking her out. Dude, sucks to be Tom Selleck. So Ramsay goes home, and we get an intensely dumb scene with his son, where they laugh stupidly and say dumb things.

Next day at the station, Marvin has discovered that Luther's special rocket-bullets are heat seaking (wow, what a surprise) and that the chips Jackie had in her purse can "override most CPU instructions and turn any household robot into a killing machine." Excellent. Also, the chips came off an assembly line. So that means...that they were made on an assembly line. Which means...precisely nothing, as far as I can tell.

So then the chief comes up and tells Ramsay he wants him to speak with one of their psychics. Huh? What is this all about? So we get a COMPLETELY random, pointless, and meaningless scene with a psychic. Oh man. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse.

Finally, Ramsay gets back to his desk, and Luther calls. He's apparently tapped into the closed-circuit security cameras at the police station (???) and says it'll be no use for Ramsay to trace the call because he's on a mobile phone. Uh. Ok. Can't the cell companies trace which cell is servicing his call?

Anyway. At this point in writing this review from the notes I took while watching the movie, I found a note that read, simply, "LOL." I'm not sure what happened, but apparently it was funny.

Luther wants "his woman," so Ramsay storms down to a bare cement holding cell where they've apparently been keeping Jackie all this time for no reason. She flips out when she finds out that Luther is after her. So Ramsay says they're going to take her to a "safe place." They take her down to get her screened for bugs. (Don't you think they should have done this, like, yesterday, when they picked her up?) For some reason, Ramsay takes her purse while she's being scanned, so the purse doesn't get scanned. Do you think it could have, say, A BUG in it?

They take Jackie out in two cop cars (Ramsay and Jackie in one, with a robot driver, and Karen driving the other one by herself) and cruise down the highway. Luther and his cronies IMMEDIATELY show up -- first a helicopter, then some flunkies in a car. The flunkies open a special trap door in the bottom of their car and chuck out some special floating ultra-fast seeker bomb robots. The robots shoot off underneath cars and across the highway, but Karen blows them up with the laser turret on the top of her car. But there are just too many of them, so finally Ramsay and Jackie have to "bail out" and jump into the other car. Was this the frickin' plan all along? I would think Ramsay would have come up with something a little less STUPID, but, then again, his record isn't exactly stellar so far. The bombs hit the car, and it explodes and goes flying off the road. It's interesting to note that not a single other car on the road seems to notice anything weird going on this whole time robots are getting blown up by laser turrets and cars are exploding.

Well, it turns out the floating ultra-fast seeker bomb robots were homing in on something besides the car, because now the bad guys are chucking them out, and they're coming for the other car instead. So FINALLY Ramsay gets the bright idea that maybe it's JACKIE'S PURSE that is the problem, and he makes her throw it out the window. But not before she takes out what she's apparently been hiding this whole time -- the templates for the chips. So the floating ultra-fast seeker bomb robots swerve and blow up the purse instead of the car.

So they randomly go to a sushi bar, where somehow Luther manages to catch Karen. Don't ask me -- I just review 'em. Luther works out an exchange with Ramsay. Luther wants the chip templates, and Ramsay wants his partner, so they work out a quick exchange. However, Jackie slips Ramsay half of the templates before walking over to Luther. "My insurance policy," she says. Luther promptly kills her as soon as he has the templates, so it wasn't a very good policy. Or maybe she just didn't pay her premiums.

Luther quickly finds out he doesn't have all the templates, so he starts blowing the place up with his special gun. Ramsay hides behind a table, which is sufficent to hide from these bullets that can go around corners and stuff. I hate how the hero in these movies is completely impervious to all the baddy's weapons. Somehow Luther gets away.

Next day at the station, Ramsay reveals that he placed a bug on Luther. I never saw it, but I'll take his word for it. The call IMMEDIATELY comes in that they have a signal from the bug. They track Luther to the local hospital, where approximately seven hundred cops are standing outside the men's room. Ramsay goes in and finds the bug he placed on Luther stuck in a roll of toilet paper. "Congratulations guys, you just staked out a roll of toilet paper," he says before letting the forensic team in (which apparently consists of one woman). One of the spider robots scuttles out of a corner and jumps on the woman, who starts screaming, attracting the attention of another cop who comes running in. The spider explodes, and both cops die a flaming fiery nasty death. Cool!

Meanwhile, Luther has stolen somebody's eye (???) and walks into the police station without anybody noticing, sits down at a terminal, uses the eye to get past the retinal scan (I still don't have a clue who's eye he supposedly had), and looks up Ramsay's personnel file. He finds out he has a son and where this son lives. He takes off again.

When Ramsay and Karen get back to the station, Karen conveniently notices the file that's up on the screen that Luther conveniently left up for her to notice, so she and Ramsay rush back to his house. They find Lois lying on the ground all busted up, and Bobby is gone. They spend an extremely inordinate amount of time getting Lois working again instead of looking for Bobby, and suddenly Luther calls. Ramsay talks to him a bit, then is about to take off. They've set up another trade, this time the templates for Bobby, and Ramsay is supposed to go alone. Ramsay makes Karen promise not to follow, refuses to tell her where he's going, and takes off.

Karen decides to go back to work on Lois in the meantime and gets her partially working. It seems like Lois has somehow taped BOTH SIDES of the conversation Ramsay just had with Luther, and it's the FIRST thing she decides to play back when she's operative. Wow, that was pretty convenient, plotwise.

Ramsay shows up at the construction site Luther specified and now has to confront his fear of heights by going up the open elevator. There are the stupid spider robots all around the elevator, but Luther tells him (through the headset he still has that he stole from Karen) that the spiders won't hurt him, so just come on up the elevator. This he does, and he finds Luther with Bobby. Luther lets Bobby go, and Ramsay sends him down in the elevator. Now Luther sees fit to tell him that the spiders won't stop anyone from getting ON the elevator, but they're going to kill the first person who gets off it. So instead of giving Luther the templates, Ramsay instead starts running back towards the elevator. This of course pisses Luther off, and he starts shooting at Ramsay with his cool gun. But again, since he is the hero, all he has to do is duck or move behind something to foil these ultra-smart heat seeking missiles. He yells at Bobby to stop the elevator, but it won't stop. Fortunately, Karen shows up in the nick of time just as Bobby is getting down, and she grabs him and pushes him up to the second floor and climbs up herself, away from the spiders.

Now, Ramsay is still stuck halfway up the building with Luther firing ineffective missiles at him. Ramsay runs around randomly, then jumps in another elevator and for some reason sends it rocketing to the TOP of the building instead of the bottom. Uh. Ok. The elevator gets stuck at the top, and Ramsay opens the service panel, which contains this convenient video screen that tells him there's been a system malfunction, and in order to get the elevator to move again, he has to press the reset button, which is conveniently located UNDER the elevator. Wow, that's a great bit of engineering, there. Why put it somewhere convenient when you can put it under the floor?

Well, Ramsay opens the trapdoor to go have a look, when suddenly the spiders show up out of nowhere. They must have climbed the building while he was busy shivering forever from his fear of heights. So instead of being able to go through the trap door, now he has to go out the front and around the side and crawl down underneath, perilously monkey-bar his way across the bottom, then push the button. WHY he has to do this instead of using the trapdoor is unclear, but, hey, let's not get into that.

Ramsay manages to get to the button, only getting sprayed in the face by spider-acid twice. Turns out, acid to the face doesn't hurt -- it just turns your face green. I'm angry now that I've spent my whole life fearing people who threatened to throw acid in my face. Next time someone threatens to fling acid in my face, I'll just say, "Go ahead, it'll just turn my face green."

Anyway, he gets the elevator started back down the building. Luther, however, is waiting for him (the elevator conveniently stopped right at Luther's floor, of course). Luther and Ramsay fight in the elevator while it plummets towards the ground, but Ramsay manages to stop it about ten feet from the ground, and Luther falls out. The spiders, who apparently didn't crawl up the building after all, are waiting to devour their poor master. They inject Luther with acid, and he dies. But wait! When Ramsay goes over to check on him, Luther does the "bad guy last gasp" -- he sits up and, well, gasps. Then he really dies.

So this time Karen asks Ramsay out, and they kiss as the credits roll, and his acid burned face leaks pus everywhere. The End.

This movie wasn't as "bad" as I was expecting (I was expecting much more over-the-top crap), but it was certainly bad enough to be on this page, and it had enough laughs to warrant a good rating. I only wish Gene Simmons was in more movies, because he's easily reason enough to see a movie, as far as I'm concerned.

Scene to watch for: The psychic scene.

Best line: "Drop it, sucker!"

Things that make you go "Huh?": Powered by an 8088 CPU???

View this movie's entry at the Internet Movie Database.

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