80s Revisited: Short Circuit

Short Circuit (1986)
Directed by John Badham; screenplay by SS Wilson & Brent Maddock; produced by David Foster & Lawrence Turman


Seeing this movie now, you'd never know this was such a big hit, because honestly, it is just terrible. Just... not offensively bad or something I hated, but just an aggressively mediocre movie full of misstep upon misstep. I would say it severely misjudges the amount of humor you can get out of the premise, but clearly I'm wrong, because people loved this fucking thing.

The premise... the army has created five experimental robots, and Number Five gains self-awareness after being struck by lightning. Not only that, but he develops emotions and basically turns into a fourth-grader (at least, his sense of humor and the movie's sense of humor seems to point in that direction). He winds up with a girl running a home animal shelter (Ally Sheedy, belting every one of her lines at the top of her lungs like a child, her limited talent once again making me question why anyone ever put her in anything), and she uses her hippie powers of being loud and obnoxious to protect him from the military contractors who are pursuing him (led by Austin Pendleton and GW Bailey playing that one character he played in every 80s movie).

For some reason, we've also got the inexplicably popular Steve Guttenberg, whose onetime stardom continues to baffle me (although Ally Sheedy makes him look like Sir John Barrymore), and Fisher Stevens in blackface as a racial stereotype with the childish name Ben Jabituya (geddit? jab it to you! geddit??? -- Also, just so we know that GW Bailey is the hissable bad guy, his name is Captain Skroeder, a point immaturely hammered home when Ben accidentally calls him scrotum... Two grown men wrote this script and sold it to Hollywood, ladies and gentlemen.)... these guys created the robots and want to discover what Number Five's malfunction is. The film tries to make occasional points about sentience and autonomy and what constitutes existence, but those moments are subsumed by potty humor and bits cobbled together from contemporary hits that were far better (especially E.T. and Gremlins, though it's also filmed in the same town as The Goonies, which seems a little desperate...), and their observations aren't really insightful or anything. They try clumsily to layer a love story on to this, too, seemingly for no real reason. It's like someone hit Isaac Asimov in the head with a board and made him write a robot version of a Babysitter's Club book.

The writers went on to inflict a sequel on the world, as well as *Batteries Not Included, Ghost Dad, and Wild Wild West (and Tremors, which I'd like to do as an 80s Revisited).

For all the silly stupidity of this movie, I sure did love it when I was a kid. And I still think Number Five is a really neat creation of robotics and puppetry (I actually saw him at the Museum of Science & Industry in a traveling exhibit on robotics in 1987 or so). Too bad about the lame voice and unfunny attempts at being cute, but he's a really interesting movie creature just to look at and observe. None of the other special effects are any good, curiously.

Weird trivia from my life: I snuck in to see this movie a second or even third time (!!) when I was 10 because I walked out of Top Gun. I hate to be the guy that says this, but I should've kept walking until I reached the library... Still better than Top Gun, though.