Watching the worst films on Netflix, so you don’t have to
Michael Crichton is best known for hiding a small dinosaur in Richard Attenborough’s walking stick. The results were catastrophic: a young boy was electrocuted and an overweight IT expert was spat on to death. These events were later brought to life in the Steven Spielberg documentary Jurassic Park (1993), but a decade before this Crichton created a very different dystopia.
What’s it about?
Runaway sees sentient moustache Tom Selleck, battling an evil army of robots under the control of America’s goth-Mick-Hucknall, Gene Simmons. Made in 1984, the film is set in a near-future world — so roughly 1995, but a really shit 1995 where all the music, fashion, architecture and cars are more or less exactly the same as those of 1984.
Selleck plays Jack Ramsey, an ex-beat cop who, crippled by vertigo, now heads up a department assigned to catching ‘runaways’ — a term used to describe robots that have gone rogue. Needless to say this happens quite regularly. Often enough to necessitate a department, at least.
Vertigo? Is that a problem for cops?
It’s the silent killer! Apparently, when he was a beat cop, Ramsey chased a man into a construction site, only to be struck by vertigo! The man got away and went on to kill six people later that night — which I imagine is how most of us would celebrate winning a footrace against Tom Selleck.
Sounds a bit…
…Like something written by the poet laureate of a town called Implausibility? Not only that, but you find this out around 8 minutes into the film, so spend the next 92 waiting for an inevitable climax on a building site.
An inevitable what now?
Moving on then. Isn’t that Gene Simmons from KISS?
Yup, it’s strange seeing him in this because he looks pretty normal, whereas he’s spent most of his career dressed up like a sort of rebellious panda. He plays this guy called Luther who for no discernible reason has created a microchip that turns regular robots into murderous arseholes.
He’s doing this for no reason at all?
Yeah. Unless I missed it. I might have missed it.
Anyone else in it?
There’s Cynthia Rhodes from the 1980s who plays Ramsey’s partner, and Kirstie Alley from the Scientology. She plays Gene Simmons’ sort-of-girlfriend, so I guess, as a whole, decision-making has not been her strong point. Good eyebrows though.
What about the robots?
They’re basically everywhere, because it’s the future. Tom Selleck even has one that looks after his ‘adorable’ kid, although in this context I’m using ‘adorable’ in the American sense, which directly translates as ‘precocious’. The nanny-bot is a bit like if Siri was trapped in a 1980s hi-fi, but a Siri that was a massive turncoat and told your dad when you were watching TV in bed. Pretty much all of the robots in the film are quite obviously made out of stuff you’d find lying around the house, which I like. There’s a police sniffer-dog robot that I think used to be a Hoover and a surgery robot that is clearly one of those overhead projectors from school. You half expect Jonathan Pearce to be commentating on the action sequences with a post-analysis from Craig Charles or a flirty Philippa Forrester.
Right. Any standout moments?
A couple, actually. There’s a bit near the beginning where a house-robot murders a family and holds a baby hostage at gunpoint. And then later there’s a bit where Tom Selleck makes Kirstie Alley jump between two moving cars, which I found to be at best unprofessional and at worst a sign of deep disrespect for the woman who gave us Look Who’s Talking. Twice.
Is the baby okay?
Yeah, Tom rescues it and then him, Ted Danson and that guy from Police Academy raise it together.
Okay, very good. What did you learn?
I learnt that if you play music twice as fast as it should be played, anything can seem dramatic. The music is by far the most drunk person at this party.
And how was the party?
Actually quite watchable. I only regret it with two-fifths of my being, which is sort of a default-level disappointment for me.