Short Circuit (1986)

In the decade that gave us “E.T.” and droids, “Short Circuit” introduces a hero that’s a little bit of both. “Short Circuit” is very much like “Chopping Mall” except when lightning strikes a military grade robot he becomes hyperactive and charming like Robin Williams. I wouldn’t call “Short Circuit” a childhood favorite but I fondly remember re-visiting the movie time and time again on network TV when I was a kid and didn’t hate it. In the spectrum of “Mac and Me,” and “E.T.,” its right there smack dab in the middle with “Batteries Not Included.”

The military is now developing a group of armed drone robots for potential combat. When model Number 5 is struck by lightning, it gains the sentience of a human being and escapes from the base. Crossing paths with a young woman named Stephanie, he begins craving information and adapting to pop culture, particularly taking a love to television and music. Meanwhile Number 5’s creators Newton and Ben are on its tail hoping to bring it back before the military destroys it.

“Short Circuit” is one of the classic VHS rental success stories where it did okay in the box office but became a classic thanks to home video renters.  And why not? “Short Circuit” has that down to Earth appeal where it’s much better appreciated at home with a bowl of popcorn rather than in a big theater. John Badham’s film is not wildly epic or grand in scale, but a sweet little science fiction fantasy. Number 5 (or Johnny 5) is a nice enough protagonist who sports a neat chemistry with Ally Sheedy, and Badham even features a nice nod to his masterpiece “Saturday Night Fever”. Sheedy is primarily the foil for Number 5 who introduces him to the world, and he begins to slowly form affection for her.

Steve Gutenberg and Fischer Stevens are fun as two scientists anxiously tracking down their project, and getting in to all kinds of mishaps. G.W. Bailey is on board as well, pretty much playing a military version of his character Captain Harris from the “Police Academy” movies. Like many films of this ilk, it’s easy to figure out who to root for and who to jeer, as Gutenberg brings his usual everyman quality and charm to his performance. All the while the military men run around screaming and shooting at poor Johnny 5. “Short Circuit” is a pleasant enough genre film with some great special effects, sharp humor and all around fun premise I wouldn’t mind seeing re-invented in a modern setting.