Michael Crichton is the storytelling engine behind so many of the Ancient Future genre that we’re talking about all this week, someone who was ahead of his time at one time and now, we can look back at his films and say, “Wow, that future sure got old.”
Before he was doing ads about reverse mortgages where he has to outright tell you that this scam is not a scam, Tom Selleck ruled the world, turning down Indiana Jones for Thomas Magnum and then making this movie where he played Sgt. Jack R. Ramsay, an expert at stopping robots and machines gone wrong or “runaways.”
He used to be a real cop, but his fear of heights caused him to pause, which let a criminal escape and a family to get killed. The on the beat police look down on his robotic patrol, but his new partner Karen (Cynthia Rhodes, Penny from Dirty Dancing) is super into it. And now there’s an actual homicide by robot and untrackable computer chips and an evil genius named Dr. Charles Luther (Gene Simmons, of course) behind it all.
He’s out to kill an ex-lover (Kirstie Alley) who is trying to sell his inventions to the highest bidder. I mean, she’s right to do so, because he’s made some stuff that doesn’t even exist 37 years later, like bullets that lock onto their targets and have cameras on them to guide them to kill whomever they target.
The end of the film has the battle we’ve always wanted, Selleck vs. Simmons, on a skyscraper under construction guarded by robotic bugs that spit poison.
And in the middle of all this tech, G. W. Bailey gets his Police Academy role as Lt. Harris from started early as the chief of police.
Crichton didn’t just write this one. He directed it, too. He did the same for Pursuit, Westworld, The Great Train Robbery, Looker, Physical Evidence and Coma, which had a small part for Selleck.
For all the fun I make of these old tech films, this one was pretty on the ball when it came to predictions of today. Sure, we don’t have bullets like that, but we do have robot vacuum cleaners, the Internet, voice-activated computers, social media, retinal identification, drones, laptops and police officers armed with semi-automatic guns.
What’s really interesting about Runaway is that it was the favorite movie of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who brought up Tom Select and his character from this movie numerous times during the 1989 trial that led to his execution.