Posted on June 9, 2018
Short Circuit (1986)
Short Circuit is a science fiction/comedy film directed by John Badham staring Steve Guttenberg, Ally Sheedy, and Fisher Stevens.
The film was written by S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, both having this be their first (full budget) film.
It tells the story of a military robot that is struck by lightning and somehow achieves sentience. The robot is voiced by Tim Blaney (Frank the Pug from Men In Black).
The Story (SPOILERS)
Newton Crosby and Ben Jabituya are roboticists for Nova Laboratories.
The pair develop several prototype robots for the U.S. military. The robots are anagram-ed S.A.I.N.T. (Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transport).
Crosby and Ben don’t want their work to be used as weapons and would rather pursuit peaceful applications with them.
During a live demonstration for military personnel, one of the units is struck by lightning while traveling inside. This scrambles its programming and it escapes the NOVA facility, believing itself to be sentient.
The robot runs away from it’s pursuers, leaping off a bridge and parachutes into Astoria, Oregon. It lands on top of a food truck and is found by Stephanie Speck, an animal care-giver, who mistakes it for an alien.
She takes the robot inside her home and provides it with “input” (television, a globe, books, and a dictionary). The robot names itself “Number 5”, being the fifth prototype that Newton and Ben created.
Stephanie continues to help the now curious and intelligent robot by talking to it and providing additional data when requested. She contacts NOVA about their lost robot and Crosby and Ben are sent to retrieve it.
While waiting for NOVA to arrive, Number 5 learns about death when he accidentally crushes a grasshopper. Fearing death if disassembled by NOVA, Number 5 escapes in Stephanie’s truck.
NOVA tracks the robot down and deactivates it, transporting it back to their facility. During the transport, Number 5 reactivates itself and returns to Stephanie.
Angered by Number 5’s escape, NOVA President Howard Marner sends a response squad. Their security chief, Captain Skroeder, and three other S.A.I.N.T. prototypes locate the missing robot and attack Number 5 in the woods.
It outwits the laser-toting murderous robots using traps and quick thinking. Number 5 reprograms the robots to act as The Three Stooges, distracting the small army of men, allowing it to escape.
Number 5 convinces Crosby of it’s sentience and leads the Army away from the the trio (Stephanie, Newton, and Ben). Number 5 is attacked and appears to be destroyed in a firefight.
Howard laments the loss of the prototype and Crosby resigns, driving away with Stephanie in a NOVA van.
They are surprised to discover that Number 5 hid under the van. Number 5 assembled a decoy that was destroyed.
Crosby decides to take Number 5 to his father’s ranch in Montana. Stephanie agrees to come with them, as long as she can bring her animals.
As they drive off, Number 5 decides that its name should be “Johnny 5”. The credits role, showing clips from the film set to “Come and Follow Me”.
Short Circuit isn’t awful. Steve Gutenberg is memorable enough. Ally Sheedy had a strange character (a some-what love interest for some reason) but her reaction to a sentient robot is understandable enough.
The Indian impression Fisher Stevens gives isn’t very tasteful or that funny. I’m not upset about Ben’s portrayal though, mainly because the character wasn’t originally intended to be Indian (changed in production) and Fisher Stevens doesn’t do it out of discrimination or malice. It just makes the film have a strange alteration that dates it significantly (though not as horrendous as the sequel).
Short Circuit doesn’t age well, and that is common for a mid-eighties film such as this. It felt like it was trying so hard to capture the E.T feel that it stumbled halfway through. The first half of the film is significantly more memorable.
Calling it “not awful” isn’t exactly high praise, but there isn’t much to talk about. It’s indeed a film that is worth watching, but I doubt many will desire to watch the movie again.
Johnny 5 aiming to grasp sentience (with additional “input”) is a good enough premise. The grasshopper scene about the concept of death was handled well, the comedy has some great moments (Your mama was a snowblower gets me every time), and there is a charming balance of heart that lesser films wouldn’t include.
While I don’t highly recommend it, Short Circuit has enough entertainment value to warrant a view.