Magnum P.I. vs Gene Simmons?! Sci Fi Action ‘Runaway’ Retrospective

Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer


Plot: In the near future, a cop in a special division to deal with “runaways” (malfunctioning robots) and his new partner discover an evil scientist is using robots to kill as part of his nefarious plan.

What do you mean you’ve never seen Magnum PI? It ran for EIGHT seasons!

Review: I’ve heard about the 1984 Tom Selleck Sci Fi action flick Runaway for a few years now, but I never bothered to watch it. I mean, how good could it be? Well, I was sleeping on a hidden gem because this movie is fantastic. And I’m a bit surprised it doesn’t get talked about more.

Written and directed by Michael Crichton (Sphere, Jurassic Park) the film is a really cool blend of police procedural and science fiction action thriller. The cast here is really strong. Selleck was cast as Sergeant Jack R. Ramsay in the middle of his Magnum P.I. run and the actor brings a lot of the charm and likeability he is known for to the role. Ramsay struggles with vertigo and guilt over allowing a criminal to escape due to his vertigo, and these vulnerabilities add some dimension to the action character. And he has a sweet relationship with his son Bobby (Joey Cramer) which was endearing.

Are you feeling lucky, copper? Nyah nyah

Selleck also has great chemistry with Cynthia Rhodes as his new partner in the Runaway division Officer Karen Thompson. Their flirty, will-they won’t they relationship may run afoul of HR standards, but it was charming to watch them dance around each other before finally acting on their passions. It’s an 80s movie, so you know the police boss has got to be a hardcase. And G.W. Bailey fit the bill as the ball busting Chief of Police months after first appearing in his most famous role, ball busting Lieutenant Thaddeus Harris in Police Academy.

And we just have to talk about Gene Simmons as the villain Dr Charles Luther. The KISS co-lead singer is a revelation as the plotting and psychopathic character. Luther wants to get his hands on some tech to sell to the highest bidder and uses people and robots to accomplish his goal. There is an irredeemably evil quality about him that is just so enjoyable. Getting caught up in Luther’s web of murder is his ex-lover Jackie Rogers, played by a pre-Cheers Kristie Alley. The undressing scene with Alley is somewhat gratuitous but fitting for the era. And the scene where Luther stabs her in the neck was quite brutal, underscoring the film’s gritty tone.

Not the Replicators. I hate those guys!

The concept of killer robots might sound a bit silly, but Runaway plays it straight and it works. At its core it is a cat-and-mouse police procedural thriller with some pretty great pacing. There are also several intense sequences including Ramsay saving a baby from a killer robot, Luther trying to kill a scientist with a heat seeking weapon, a standoff in a hotel room, an explosive device deactivation and the climax which has the cop hero saving his son from the evil scientist and overcoming both his vertigo and tiny acid-spewing robots. Good stuff!

I’m not sure why this film did not do better upon release (it disappointed at the box office and received a mixed critical response) because I had a blast with it. Maybe if it had a more applicable title more people would have seen it; “runaway” sounds like an after school special. Or maybe people could not buy Magnum P.I. fighting robots and a musician. Who knows? But if you have not seen it, take my advice and check it out. It’s not the best Sci Fi action flick ever or the most unique police procedural thriller plot-wise, but it is a consistently entertaining watch.

Editor Jules’ Score: 8.5 out of 10

Are you a fan of Runaway? Which 80s science fiction flick should we retro review next? And you can check out more Sci Fi action reviews below:


Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an award-winning author. I say things like “13 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.

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