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Movies From the Black Lagoon: Runaway

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Runaway - 1984, PG-13
By Tom Doty

Two cops take on a psychotic arms dealer in this sci-fi/thriller from film maker/novelist Michael Crichton.
The setting is L.A. in the near future (probably about now, considering this was shot over twenty years ago). The story follows a technical division of the department tasked with bringing down rogue robots, or "runaways." These are not your George Lucas style bots. They are compact machines that perform menial labor though they are beginning to take jobs away from humans. This isn't so farfetched as most of us now use ATMs and ring up our own groceries but it was radical enough for the early eighties.
The plot has Sergeant Ramsay and his new partner, Thompson, falling into the orbit of a super criminal named Luther. This bad guy is like a James Bond villain as he has plenty of gadgets and ominous plans to sell new weapons technology to the highest bidder. The only problem is that he has double crossed his partners and alienated his gal pal, Jackie, who walks right into the arms of the law.
The stage is now set for some action scenes and they do not disappoint. There are several scenes of the cops subduing rogue machines before Luther gets into it but everything gets kicked up a notch now. You get a couple of good shootouts as an appetizer for a high-speed chase scene that features radio controlled cars, which pack high explosives. If that's not enough then you also get an intense "exchange of hostages" scene at an outdoor Sushi joint and a nail biting climax that pits Ramsay against an army of mechanized spiders that can inject acid into their victims.
All of these cool elements are stirred together by master storyteller Michael Crichton. Though he is mostly remembered for the blockbuster sci-fi/thrillers he wrote ("Jurassic Park" and " The Andromeda Strain" to name a few) he was also a fine filmmaker who delivered plausible scenarios in semi-futuristic settings. My favorite film of his was "West World." It focused on a theme park where patrons could interact with robot actors in historical settings. It also featured his trademark theme of how technological advances carry equal potential for good and evil. Crichton wrote and directed this fine effort which boasted the first big screen lead role for T.V. actor James Brolin (father of Josh and husband of Barbra Streisand). In this film Crichton repeats that tradition by giving the part of Ramsay to Tom Selleck (who was starring in 'Magnum P.I." at the time).
Crichton also shows moxie by getting rocker Gene Simmons to play Luther and he is an excellent choice. There are also good parts for the ladies with Kirstie Alley playing Luther's moll as a treacherous femme fatale who finds herself equally repulsed and attracted to Luther. The "new partner "role goes to actress/dancer Cynthia Rhodes. She makes for an adorable and capable partner but this talented lady gave up a huge movie career (she also starred in "Dirty Dancing") to raise a family with her husband, musician Richard Marx. Good for her.
Crichton also wrote the script, which features a slew of cool gimmicks. First there are the robots, which appear to be the new underclass. Then you get awesome weapons like smart bullets (that seek out particular victims based on heat signature) and the robot spiders. None of these things seem all that impossible now. Crichton definitely deserves to be remembered as the H.G. Wells of his time.
Best Line: "Congratulations guys. You just staked out a roll of toilet paper."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to:

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