Given the star and the director, it shouldn’t be surprising Runaway is rather conservative. And, given the endless kissing montage over the end credits, it also appears to have been geared toward female viewers (but with Selleck, that one isn’t a surprise either). As science fiction, Runaway is very, very safe. It’s an unexciting safe. It’s even a little sturdy. While Crichton’s choice to cast Gene Simmons is ludicrous, his brand of 1980s futurism is–though obviously budget-conscious–excellent. The robots in the movie have not changed the world, they’re simply new additions to a familiar landscape. Crichton’s always been good with that aspect of science fiction filmmaking, the problems come when he’s got to come up with a plot.
Runaway, for example, does not have much of a plot. It takes place over two or three days, has countless filler sequences of Selleck in peril (in the first twenty minutes, so it seems unlikely he’s in any danger), and is kind of an extended chase story. There are some big plot holes (cops who go missing, spectacular murders unreported), but it gets, predictably, from A to B to C. Along the way, there’s some good acting from Selleck, who both manages not to look embarrassed in the silly future outfit and to maintain some decorum during his scenes with son Joey Cramer. Cramer’s performance is hilariously awful and suggests Simmons might have turned in a better one with some direction, which Crichton was apparently not providing to anyone. Cynthia Rhodes is fine, though her character is absurd. Stan Shaw and G.W. Bailey are both good in smaller roles.
What Crichton manages to do, after a while, is get some good action sequences going. There’s an excellent chase scene and, at the end, he manages to get some solid effect from a wholly predictable (and forecast in the first five minutes) sequence. Crichton’s not a dynamic director–almost every shot is a walking-and-talking shot–but he works really well with rear screen projection. Oddly, those sequences are also the only ones with really impressive work from cinematographer John A. Alonzo. The rest of the time, Alonzo shoots the movie like all they’ve got are fluorescents. Crichton’s composing his shots pre-pan and scan Panavision here, so it’s hard for there not to be a good shot every few minutes.
Most of Runaway hinges on Selleck’s likability, just because there’s very little momentum to the movie. The journey to the near future, which lasts well into the second act, is only so interesting as people are still driving pickup trucks. But for such a colorless narrative, Runaway works all right. It’s dumb, but competent in some interesting ways (though less so in some other–not interesting–ways).
Written and directed by Michael Crichton; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by James Coblentz and Glenn Farr; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Douglas Higgins; produced by Michael I. Rachmil; released by Tri-Star Pictures.
Starring Tom Selleck (Sgt. Jack R. Ramsay), Cynthia Rhodes (Officer Karen Thompson), Gene Simmons (Dr. Charles Luther), Kirstie Alley (Jackie Rogers), Stan Shaw (Sgt. Marvin James), G.W. Bailey (Chief of Police), Joey Cramer (Bobby Ramsay) and Chris Mulkey (David Johnson).