The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 27: Bonus movie review!
RUNAWAY (1984 Tristar)
Directed by Michael Crichton and featuring Gene Simmons
Being in was never enough for Gene Simmons. Dating Cher and Diana Ross gave him a taste of Hollywood stardom. He saw movies as his next mountain to climb. Gene secured an audition with novelist and sometimes director Michael Crichton. Crichton asked Gene to communicate, without saying any words, his desire to kill him. Whatever Gene did worked, and he scored the role without even having to read for it.
Crichton’s next film Runaway was a Tom Selleck sci-fi vehicle and Gene played the villain Dr. Charles Luther. Turning his back on Kiss and leaving Paul Stanley to do all the heavy lifting, Simmons cut his hair and got filming.
Set in the “near future”, Runaway depicts an America in which robots are commonplace. Every household has some, and they have failsafes built in to protect humans. Selleck played Jack Ramsay, a veteran cop now on the “runaway squad”, a quiet department dedicated to capturing errant robots. His latest case is a shocker. A robot has committed the first ‘bot-human homicide in history. What caused it to malfunction and deliberately kill its owners? Ramsay discovers a strange chip inside designed not only to override its safety protocols, but also to order the robot to kill. But who would do such a thing?
Who else? The evil Dr. Charles Luther played by the God of Thunder himself.
Dr. Luther developed new templates that allow robots to identify and assassinate specific humans. They are worth a fortune on the black market, and so Luther killed his partners and went rogue. However his ladyfriend Jackie (Kirstie Alley) doublecrossed him and stole the chips. When Ramsay and his cop partner Karen find Jackie, they narrowly escape Luther who was tracking her. Not only does he have killer robots, but also a huge-ass handgun that has homing bullets that can even turn corners. They try to set up him by having Jackie return the stolen chips, but in one of his best scenes, Gene Simmons stabs her in the back in the middle of a kiss.
Jackie didn’t turn over all the chips. Ramsay still has some. Being the evil genius that he is, Luther hacks the police computers and finds out where Ramsay lives. This leads to a very typical final confrontation, in which Luther kidnaps Ramsay’s son and brings him to an under-construction skyscraper. Of course he would. It’s a standard movie cliche involving elevators and heights. Conveniently, the movie establishes early that Ramsay has a fear of heights. Of course he does!
Luther does have one neat gadget for this long and fairly boring ending. He has robotic spiders that spit acid, programmed to kill anything that comes down from the building. Tom Selleck eventually bests Gene Simmons as you knew he would, but Gene also gets one of the cheesiest movie after-deaths you will ever see. You know those scenes when you think the villain is dead, but he’s not? Gene gets to make a funny face and go “RAAAAHHHHH!” before dropping down dead for real this time.
Michael Crichton was certainly a fine science fiction writer, with titles like Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain to his credits. As a movie director, he was less successful. The Great Train Robbery (1979) starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland, and based on his own novel, was his best work. Others point to Westworld (1973) as his best work as a director. The main point is, nobody looks to Runaway for movie gold. It’s sluggish, clunky and at times pretty goofy. As a science fiction film, it utilized intelligent concepts and envisioned a future that was very different for the cinema in 1984. Runaway had a story idea. Jack Ramsay was a complicated character, with a cliche but workable back story. It was just poorly executed. One redeeming value is its Jerry Goldsmith score, which was his first all-electronic soundtrack.
While Runaway isn’t considered Michael Crichton’s best film, it might be Gene’s. His next roles were less flattering. He played a transvestite villain in Never Too Young to Die with John Stamos. There was a cameo in the horror cult classic Trick Or Treat. Opposite Rutger Hauer, he played a stereotypical terrorist in Wanted: Dead or Alive. His last film before returning to Kiss full-time was an early George Clooney film called Red Surf. Gene was a friendly weapons dealer.
Meanwhile in Kiss, Paul Stanley had clearly taken over leadership. All the singles were his. Since Gene had short hair, he wore a pretty silly wig on stage with Kiss. None of this helped his image in the eyes of fans. He did earn a good review for Runaway from Roger Ebert, but otherwise the movie was a dud.
To be continued…