[box cover]

Runaway

Does Michael Crichton take us all for fools? He seems to think that his fans and the general public will gobble up even the leavings from his food tray, that we will buy his hobby-horse rantings and any feeble ideas about the future that might come to him in the bath. But then, we do buy it, don't we — we buy everything he has to offer, and our subservience only encourages the Master to have further contempt for us and thus issue forth mildewed mediocrities such as Runaway, a pathetic science-fiction film. It's not that Mike can't be good at times. His film Looker is some kind of minor genre masterpiece. One just wishes that he would stop telling the same story over and over and free himself of his calcified theme-park template. And perhaps sometime soon, say, when he's in the movie theater or in a grocery store (if he ever goes out and mingles with the hoi polloi), he simply will observe people and see what they are really like, the way novelists are suppose to do. It might help the next time he is trying to forge a character. Released in 1984 by TriStar, Runaway shows Crichton at his public-hating worst. It's set in the "near future," which looks very much like a theme park, in which robots do most of our work for us. But sometimes the little helpmeets go awry. Who ya gonna call? Why, the Runaway Squad, of course. That's a division of the police force that goes out and turns off errant robots (wipe that smirk off your face — it can be a dangerous job). Tom Selleck is Jack Ramsey, a member of the Runaway unit, who gets to stand outside houses in which computers are on the bloody rampage and say with grim finality, "I'm going in." He is also afraid of heights, and we safely can predict that Jack will have to "face his fear" in the manner dictated by the strictures of pop psychology, narratology, and Baywatch, i.e., go through a replica of an earlier situation and this time muscle through. He has a son (a cloying, awful, ghastly son, but that's another matter), but we also know that a villain is going to kidnap that son at the end of the movie. Jack's new partner is Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes), who instantly develops a crush on him, as all professional cops are wont to do when introduced to new colleagues. This cop duo's role in society is rather lame and embarrassing until the arrival of Charles Luther, a mad-scientist-type redolent of Superman's nemesis Lex Luthor, only with more hair. We can figure out that he is evil because one of his victims calls him a "damned evil son of a bitch." Luther's exact evil plot is rather unclear, but it's obvious that he is making some kind of heat-seeking, victim-specific nuclear bullet. KISS rocker Gene Simmons plays Luther with mustache-twirling relish (it seems rock stars like to play villains because sneering, eye-popping arrogance comes easy to them). Kirstie Alley is in the mix too, as one of Luther's minions, and the whole thing ends up with a series of chases and confrontations to the death, and then a ludicrous under-the-credits seemingly 40-minute kissing scene between Selleck and Rhodes, who are showered in the sparks that don't otherwise naturally exist between them. Columbia TriStar's DVD edition of Runaway comes in both anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and full-screen, with audio in Dolby Digital 4.0, Dolby 2.0 Surround, and mono Spanish (the box says the film also comes in Portuguese, but this reviewer could not find that option on the disc). The DVD comes as Extras Lite, with nothing much beyond a routine "talent files" with two screens each on Crichton, Selleck, Simmons (who was born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel), Alley, and Rhodes. The unhelpful trailer with its bad sound also is included, along with trailers for two other sci-fi films. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm



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