I love the idea of robots being an everyday part of our lives. And, yes, before some wag points out that everything we use is probably made in a factory consisting of robots, let me hasten to add that by “robots,” I mean something more along the lines of lovable Star Wars droids, or like a Roomba with more personality—like Rosie from The Jetsons.
As such, I tend to like movies about robots, although that’s a pretty slender subgenre. One film in that subgenre that I enjoyed, though it was not a good movie, was 1984’s Runaway, starring a mustachioed Tom Selleck as a police officer charged with disabling malfunctioning robots.
Again, this is not a good movie, but it has a great premise: robots have become commonplace, and mostly take care of rudimentary tasks around the house, or work as security sentries. However, being man-made machines, robots often malfunction. Rather than having independently licensed robot technicians come in and take care of these problem cases (called “runaways”), society has foisted that job onto police officers, who work on the “runaway” squad.
In the film, Tom Selleck investigates a robot that has been modified to commit murder. It’s harrowing when he enters the suburban home where the renegade robot is firing a handgun, but the suspense and sense of danger both subside quickly when the robot murderer is revealed: it’s a very 1970s/1980s electronic box on wheels with this hilarious robotic arm wielding a pistol. The arm flops limply, taking the whole droid unit back, when it fires the gun—probably the effect recoil would have on a little robot.
I honestly don’t remember much about the flick other than the robots—and Gene Simmons. Yep, Gene Simmons from KISS, one of my favorite bands, is the villain, a deranged robotics expert who has built and programmed robots to kill humans for… some reason.
Tom Selleck’s character is a true expert on robots (in one scene, a rogue sentry droid won’t respond to voice commands; Selleck explains that a manufacturing defect results in heat from the robot dissolving the glue holding the voice-activation chip to the robot’s motherboard, resulting in that particular problem; that was one of the most interesting moments in the film!), and knows all of their quirks. He also uses a robot in his home, who functions as a kind of surrogate mother to his aggressively annoying son.
Oh, man, the son: a good child actor is worth his weight in Hollywood pedophile ring demonic sacrifices. This kid was bad. He just sounding annoying. At the end of the film, when Selleck and Simmons face off, a horde of spider-bots waiting to kill Selleck’s son, I was hoping the spiders might get their prey. Selleck manages to save his son—for better or for worse—and it is Simmons that the spider-bots stab to death.
Really, the highlight of the film are the robots, and Selleck’s masterful knowledge of them. The robots, which rarely talk, have personalities. Early in the film, Selleck and his hot new assistant go to a corn field to catch a robot (I think it’s meant to be a mouser—it functions the same way a cat would, killing varmints). The assistant picks the robot up at one point, only for it to discharge sparks as a defense mechanism. She drops the robot, and the two bumble about chasing the robot as amused farmers look on.
Besides some of the bad acting, the part of this film that really got me scratching my head was the notion that the police would be responsible for apprehending “runaways.” Sure, the homicidal robot makes sense, and humans reprogramming robots to kill or commit crimes would certainly be a police matter. But why were two police officers flown in a helicopter to apprehend what is essentially a feisty cat from a massive cornfield? The expense to the taxpayer boggles the mind. Why wouldn’t the five farmers yucking it up on a truck try to catch the robot? Other than some sparks, it didn’t seem all that dangerous. Even if it were, wouldn’t there be robot pest control companies that would take care of these situations?
Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea that robots are making eggs for breakfast and guarding office buildings. The rest of the premise just doesn’t make sense. Maybe in the 1980s police departments weren’t as cash-strapped as they are now. Whatever the case, it seems like the equivalent of calling the fire department to get a cat out of a tree.
Regardless, Runaway was fun for its very 1980s vision of a near-future filled with robots, and the inclusion of Gene Simmons. Otherwise, without the robots, it’s utterly forgettable.