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The Latest DVD


By Steve Vivona

Columbia/Tristar, $24.95, Widescreen/Standard

It's safe to say that author and sometime director Michael Crichton has the market cornered on techno-thrillers. Beginning with "The Andromeda Strain" up until his most recent novel, "Timeline" (which done right as a film could be another Jurassic-sized blockbuster), Crichton has followed the latest trends in all the realms of science and crafted intelligent thrillers based on the misuse of amazing new technology.

While films like "Jurassic Park," "Westworld," "Coma" and "Disclosure" are all well-known Crichton hits, the prolific artist has had a few misses in his long and successful career. "Runaway," written and directed by Crichton, starred Tom Selleck as a cop assigned to coralling out of control robots, or "runaways."

The film was made in 1984 and its vision of domestic robots that help with household tasks, farming or even security is pretty cheesy, even by the standards of its day. Whether that's based on Crichton's research or not I can't say, but they look pretty stupid.

Jack Ramsay is investigating a string of mysterious runaways that turn out to have altered circuitry. He soon realizes that there is a madman behind these malfunctioning robots who could (and does) turn harmless domestic machines into killers. When two electronic engineers meet violent deaths Ramsay establishes a link between them and a possible suspect.

Before long Ramsay and his new partner Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes) are hunted by Luther, an insane killer played convincingly by "Kiss" frontman Gene Simmons. Ramsay ups the stakes when he obtains the templates for the murderous motherboards from Luther's girlfriend (Kirstie Alley).

Like most other Selleck vehicles "Runaway" isn't very bad and it isn't very good. I've always been surprised at how this likeable performer has had such difficulty with motion-picture success. Aside from "Three Men and a Baby" and, more recently, "In and Out," Selleck has starred in many mediocre comedies and I can't remember how many TV movies.

Runaway definitely sports the familiar technology gone mad theme of most of Crichton's works but it doesn't quite evoke the level of suspense it's meant to. Perhaps it has to do with the killer robots and their decidedly non-threatening appearance (even the so-called spider-killers). I just never felt a sense of dread watching Selleck dodge lasers from R2-D2 knock-offs.

The story is fine as is the acting. Selleck is a durable performer no matter what the material. "Runaway" isn't a bad film, but it fails to deliver the goods.

Columbia's DVD presentation is excellent as usual. Both widescreen and standard versions are presented, but the widescreen is definitely preferable. Colors are strong and the image is sharp, and the dolby digital sound is effective. Trailers are included for this film as well as "Johnny Mneumonic" and "Gattaca."