Image Entertainment // 1988 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // April 13th, 2011
Some say he's nuts. Some say he's bolts. But can Number Five make it in the big, bad city? Keep your wires crossed.
Robots were big in the '80s. In fact, when Hollywood studios weren't busy fighting Communists, they were manufacturing robot flicks. They came in all shades: some were violent (The Terminator), some were in disguise (Blade Runner), and others were hot (Weird Science). The bug-eyed Wall-E precursor, Johnny 5, belongs in a category all his own: the friendly, inquisitive, self-aware hippie-robot.
In the original Short Circuit, Johnny 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney) goes from a high tech piece of military weaponry to a loving, peaceful Oregonian thanks to Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg.
Now, years later, Johnny 5's Indian architect, Ben Jabituya (Fischer Stevens, Early Edition), is hocking toy versions of the robot on the streets of the Big Apple. A desperate department store buyer (Cynthia Gibb, Youngblood) finds his mini-Johnnys and offers to buy a thousand of them for Christmas. Faced without a means of production, Ben goes into business with a wiseguy (Michael McKean, This is Spinal Tap) and starts producing them by hand.
Then Johnny 5 returns from Montana, a bunch of jewel thieves get involved, and everyone learns something about American naturalization and the human condition.
There's a lot going on in Short Circuit 2. Whether it's ruminating on the meaning of humanity and the soul, or addressing a foreigner's desire to become a naturalized American citizen, this sequel sets its sights on deeper themes...that are eventually undermined by ridiculous characters and slapstick robo-humor.
The bulk of the film focuses on Ben, Fischer Stevens's Indian character from the original, as he tries to understand American culture, master the English language, and find true love/make enough money to live (those two things apparently go hand-in-hand). Stevens does a great Peter Sellers shtick here, mastering a cartoony Bombay accent that is only as grating as the vaudevillian dialogue ("Oh my, how time is fun when you're having flies, huh?"). He's the perfect partner for Fred, the streetsmart shyster played by McKean. Their relationship is fairly rote, as Fred wrestles with Ben's naiveté, but becomes less important upon the arrival of the third wheel: Johnny 5.
Short Circuit 2 could have coasted by with just a story about Ben and Johnny 5 making it in the big city, but things get out of hand quickly as a plot to steal some priceless jewels eclipses everything else. Robbers are trying to tunnel under the very warehouse Ben and Fred set up shop, and they eventually turn to Johnny 5 as a target. Meanwhile, Johnny is having an existential crisis: he shows up from Montana wearing a bandana and rainbow stickers, but is in for some quick culture shock as he wanders around the ruthless city.
The dumbfounded, disbelieving reactions Johnny 5 elicits from humans in the first film was somewhat understandable: it was set in Oregon a few years earlier (you know, when robots weren't "around"). But I feel like in 1988, New Yorkers shouldn't be dismayed when they find out a robot can roll around on its own. It prevents Johnny 5 from getting past that awkward "Why is everyone afraid of me?" stage, climaxing in a weird visit to a confessional where he argues with a priest about having a soul. Is this really happening?
It's good to remember, especially during scenes like a robot going to confession, that this is a movie for children; it's silly, the characters are broad and loud, and the action is absurd. Despite its occasional self-seriousness, Short Circuit 2 is a family movie about having fun. This may not be apparent when Johnny 5 is getting brutally beaten or fighting conflicting issues of self-worth, but take my word for it. This movie also confirms what most other New York City-based family movies have taught me: as of 20 years ago, half of the people in the Big Apple were bank robbers, and every out-of-towner who goes there will inevitably wind up stuck in the middle of their schemes.
Short Circuit 2 is another barren Blu-ray release. There are no special features, and the transfer is fairly unremarkable. There is some noticeable artifacting and edge enhancement going on and the soundtrack (while filled with some pretty kicking tunes and a melodramatic score) is only in stereo. I know this movie isn't as well-remembered as the original, but it could have used a little bit of TLC.
I have plenty of fond memories surrounding Short Circuit 2. Whether its Fischer Stevens's Indian accent or the freeze-frame ending, the movie will always strike a nostalgic chord in my brain. That said, this charmingly absurd '80s robot movie probably won't appeal to you beyond ironic pleasure. This Blu-ray edition certainly doesn't add any value over the original DVD release.
Johnny 5 Guilty!
Review content copyright © 2011 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG