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Runaway (1984) – Tom Selleck VS. Gene Simmons and His Evil Robots

The 1980s had some weird movies. This is one.

In the near future, personal robots are everywhere. So much so that the police department has a group just to deal with Runaways – robots that malfunction and cannot be controlled. Tom Selleck’s character, Ramsay, is a member of that team. Gene Simmons is an evil genious that has some really bad microchips that he wants to sell to the highest bidder (terrorists). He uses robots and technology to get his way – Hell he has an army of cool, bug-like robots to do his bidding especially.

This is an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name. I have to say that it is better than I expected, especially with the fact that the main bad guy is played by cheeze master Gene Simmons, Bass Player and co-leader of the rock group, KISS. The effects, for the time, are pretty cool, especially the bug robots, and the story is interesting.

I’m going to cheap out and past the Wikipedia info for the movie to give you a clearer idea of the plot of the movie – that of course will include a plot spoiler – sorry. Here’s the plot summary from the Wikipedia entry:

Typical for Crichton’s work, Runaway deals with the devastating and sinister consequences of allowing complextechnology to run our lives. The film is set in the near future, where robots are commonplace – as much a part of everyday life as any other electrical appliance. Like other electrical appliances, they are prone to malfunctions. However, when a robot malfunctions, it could pose some form of threat to people and/or property. Such robots are known as “runaways”. As runaways are somewhat more dangerous than the average damaged machine, they are not handled by the manufacturers’ support personnel but by local divisions of the police force trained in robotics. As the beginning of the film shows, the “runaway” squad, however, is treated as mostly an easy and unexciting assignment, often ridiculed.

Sgt. Jack R. Ramsay (Selleck) is a veteran police officer who joined the runaway squad after discovering his previously unknown acrophobia, which resulted in the death of a family at the hands of a man he let escape. After years on the job, however, Jack has found himself one of the profession’s few real experts. His new partner, Karen Thompson (Rhodes), is bright and enthusiastic about the job, but he assures her there is little excitement involved. Mostly all it involves is flipping a switch. This changes when they find themselves handling an unforeseen problem – the first robot facilitated homicide. In the aftermath of dealing with a household robot murdering a family with a kitchen knife and somehow getting access to a handgun, Jack stumbles upon integrated circuits which not only override a robot’s safety features, but direct it to attack humans. These devices are discovered to be not hacked chips, but created from a series of mastertemplates, enabling them to be mass-produced.

Despite being unable to learn anything productive from uncooperative informants who end up dead, Ramsay refuses to be deterred, and soon discovers the perpetrator is megalomaniacal and sociopathic genius Dr. Charles Luther (Simmons). Luther, while working for a robotics defense contractor, developed a program that allows a robot to thermographically identify a human form amidst significant cover, and even differentiate between individual humans. Seeing the obvious profit potential in this program, he decided to kill his fellow researchers and sell the technology on the black market. After a botched attempt to arrest Luther, Thompson is left with an unexploded bullet in her arm which Ramsay successfully extracts. Fortunately the attempted arrest reveals information about one of Luther’s weapons, smart bullets – miniature heat seeking missiles that lock onto an individual human target’s unique heat signature, pursuing them wherever they run, even around corners.

While investigating one of Luther’s dead cohorts, Ramsay and Thompson come across Jackie Rogers (Alley), who is found to have once been Luther’s lover, and now partner in crime. However, she double-crossed him and stole the circuit templates, intending to sell them herself. But she is scared now because she believes Luther will stop at nothing to kill her, unless he gets the templates. When Ramsay and Thompson create a ruse to transfer Jackie to safety, Luther attacks the police convoy with freeway-running robotic smart bombs. They discover that the bombs are locked in on a bug in Jackie’s purse and manage to ditch it before the bombs exploded. Ramsay decides to make a public appearance with Jackie at a restaurant to draw Luther out, but Luther captures Thompson and wants Ramsay to exchange her for Jackie and the templates. Before making the exchange, Jackie tears some of the templates off and hands them to Ramsay, for insurance that Luther won’t kill her. But Luther kills her anyway, discovers the template aren’t all there, fires some of his smart bullets into the crowded restaurant and flees.

In an attempt to get the missing templates, Luther hatches a plan to attack Ramsay. He enters the police station and uses the computers to discover everything about Ramsay’s personal life, including his son. Once Ramsay discovers his personal information has been hacked, he and Thompson race to his home to find his personal robot damaged and his son, Bobby (Cramer), missing. A phone call from Luther confirms he kidnapped Bobby and wants to exchange him for the missing templates. Ramsay then makes a deal with Luther to meet at an unfinished skyscraper for the exchange. Luther gets the templates and sends Ramsay’s son down to street level in an elevator, awaited by a legion of assassin robots – spider-like robots no larger than loaves of bread which climb walls and ceilings to reach their targets, murder them by injecting acid into their veins, then explosively self-destruct, leaving no evidence. Thompson, despite agreeing not to interfere, arrives in time and slips past the spiders and helps Bobby stay above the reach of the robots. Luther turns on Ramsay with fury, firing smart bullets, but Ramsay turns on many of the automatic construction equipment, creating multiple heat sources which cause the bullets to miss the mark, and Ramsay uses this to get close to fight with Luther, hand-to-hand. After a pitched fight, Ramsay pushes Luther over the side, and the inventor lands on his back, in the midst of his robot spiders. Programmed to kill whoever came down from above, the robots rush Luther, injecting acid into his body in a dozen places.

Ramsay and Thompson help Bobby down from above, and Ramsay cautiously approaches the seemingly dead body of Luther. Luther reaches up to grab Ramsay and screams, but falls back, dying. Ramsay retreats as fire flares around Luther as the spiders self-destruct. Ramsay and Thompson have a laugh and embrace, kissing.

If you have the time, I say go ahead and watch this film as it was a fun distraction – even with Gene Simmons. Oh, and keep an eye out for a then very hot Kirstie Alley as Simmon’s throw away girlfriend, Jackie Rogers.

Here’s the Trailer:

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