Short Circuit is a pair of films about a bleeding edge military robot who becomes self-aware. Dubbed "Number Five", his first instinct as a sentient being is to invert the Killer Robot genre: he doesn't want to kill, and is being hunted by the weapons manufacturer that made him. It's a near-unique series that doesn't fall easily into any one genre, instead toying with hard sci-fi, romantic comedy, tragedy, revenge drama, and slapstick. (For example: Number Five eschewing his laser cannon and instead slinging mud at people).In the first film (1986), Number Five short-circuits during a routine maintenance check and flees his birthplace of NOVA robotics, which is unveiling its new line of experimental robots for military use. With mobile tank treads, hair-trigger tactile response, dodgy AI and packing some serious heat, Number Five is the epitome of corporate liability. In a panic, NOVA deploys its private security force to recapture and/or destroy the robot while his original programmers (Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens) try to stall them. Sure enough, Number Five pulls into a nearby town and befriends a granola girl named Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy), who mistakes him for an extra-terrestrial and NOVA for an evil government agency. Meanwhile, Number Five is adapting... learning... and willfully ignoring commands.The second film (Short Circuit 2, 1988) centers on a minor character from the first film, Benjamin Jahrvi, who helped create Number Five and was blackballed as a result. These days, Ben crafts little NOVA-inspired toys to turn a buck, but he's having problems getting production up to speed. So, Stephanie sends Number Five, now calling himself Johnny Five, who is a one robot production line. Unfortunately, Ben's business partner Fred Ritter sees other opportunities. But all this takes a back seat to Johnny being manipulated by thieves to help in a bank heist, which shatters Johnny's naiveté and leaves him wanting revenge.Pixar stated that Johnny Five provided some (unintended) inspiration for WALL•E, both in appearance and personality. A remake is being planned, but it is in the very early stages.
The movies contain examples of:
Accidental Misnaming: Ben keeps calling Johnny "Number Johnny Five". He doesn't really seem to mind though.
Adaptation Explanation Extrication: When Short Circuit 2 plays on television, it cuts a lot of scenes for time. Many of the cut scenes are the ones where Johnny wanders around New York observing things for himself, including a scene where he trashes a bookstore. This is jarring because he refers to visiting a bookstore at least twice in later scenes.
Adorkable: Just about everyone, admit it. Most notably: Ben, Newton and Johnny.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Inverted. There's nothing wrong with the AI until lightning gets involved. Even then, the AI is incredibly amicable and nonviolent, and takes some serious pushing (a major betrayal and very serious and brutal attempt on its life) just to move it from an Actual Pacifist to a Technical Pacifist.
Armies Are Evil: Strictly speaking, the "soldiers" are NOVA's security team and not proper military, but close enough. It's also implied that the actual army would happily use the robots as a new and better way to commit as many war crimes as possible. That was the marketing pitch, anyway; the army never actually bought them.
Los Locos: Los Locos kick your ass! Los Locos kick your face! Los Locos kick your balls into outer space!note In TV versions, this was changed to "Los Locos kick your teeth! Los Locos kick your face! Los Locos kick your butt into outer space!
Become a Real Boy: One of the plot points of the second movie is Johnny Five's quest to be recognized as sentient. He eventually is, and becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen alongside Ben at the end.
Berserk Button: Do not mistreat Johnny Five's friends, and do not treat him like a mere machine. He WILL find you, and he WILL deal the most humiliating yet nonviolent punishment imaginable. Stephanie's ex-boyfriend and Oscar both found that out firsthand.
Beware the Nice Ones: Johnny and Ben. You do not want to be around Ben if something's happened to Johnny on your watch. Just see Berserk Button above to see why it's an equally bad idea to take Johnny lightly.
Big Stupid Doodoo Head: "I've got an error message for you! I'll scramble your RAM!!" Quoted by Saunders, apparently unsure of how to properly insult a robot. Johnny is understandably less than impressed.
Brick Joke: One of the phrases that Johnny passes to Ben during his date with Sandy is translated by Sandy as "Your mother sleeps (makes love with) with my dog". At the movie's climax, Johnny uses the same phrase to taunt a crook.
Newton's response when Ben asks if he's ever seen a woman naked.
Standard fare for Johnny-Five. With most of his fairly short life spent interacting with only about a half-dozen humans in any significant way, the majority of his experience and knowledge comes from the piles upon piles of books he's read.
The sequel takes place in the USA, but was shot in Toronto. It was rumoured that the crew had to go out of their way to add litter to the shots to maintain to the illusion of an American city, but it kept getting cleaned up by City Services when they were on break.
Averted in the first film. The house in Astoria, OR isn't too far from where the opening scenes of The Goonies were shot.
Chekhov's Skill: Too many to list, most notably Johnny's magnet and remote control.
Chrome Champion: Johnny's makeover in the epilogue of Short Circuit 2. He looks like R.O.B. mated with an Academy Award.
Colonel Bogey March: As Number Five leads the robots he's reprogrammed to the roadhouse, he's whistling it.
Confessional: Johnny rolling his way into a church confessional.
Couldn't Find a Pen: With his voice box damaged, Johnny uses a rock to scrape out an S.O.S. on a brick wall.
Creative Closing Credits: The first movie has a recap of the story behind the end credits, including several Deleted Scenes (like the one with Number Five and a coffee-cup bearing robot, and the robotic arm giving the finger).
Cute Machines: Number/Johnny Five is intended as this, of course, but the little Johnny Five toys take the cake.
Decoy Getaway: Thanks to Dr. Crosby's NOVA van just happening to have enough spare parts for Number Five to build a decoy, which NOVA blows up at the end of the first film, thinking they destroyed him.
Determinator: Johnny 5 takes a lot of abuse in both movies, but always dispenses justice and emerges with a nonsensical catch-phrase and good attitude. He may not be indestructible, but his optimism is.
Dissimile: Fred explaining that he didn't "lose" Johnny Five. He just "misplaced him, y'know? Like your car keys."
Ben: HOW ARE YOU MISPLACING A 700 POUND CAR KEY?!
Do-Anything Robot: Let's see... Johnny has a parachute, "multi-frequency remote control" that allows him to control anything electric (within range), and a Swiss-Army Weapon that extends to cut through solid steel bank vault walls, unlock cars and unscrew their radios, and help build little toy robots.
Does Not Know His Own Strength: Johnny, in the second movie. When he wants to push past someone (usually Fred) he tends to toss him halfway across the room. Not to mention the trouble he gives the two police officers when they arrest him for trashing the bookstore.
Johnny Five: I am NOT stolen goods! (slams fists on the table, yanking the police officers down)
Johnny Five: You will book me, Danno? I will make your day? Do not pass go?
Every Helicopter Is A Huey: Although the helicopter that chases down and destroys the decoy Number Five is not a Huey, but a JetRanger, this trope is lampshaded:
Skroeder: ...and I'm going to need some Hueys. Howard: Some what? Skroeder: HELICOPTERS, Howard. Jesus Christ! Howard: I thought they were choppers. Skroeder: Well, now they're called Hueys. Howard: Well, why wasn't I notified?
This is likely Skroeder's mistake, as "Huey" is a specific model of helicopter, not the catch-all term for helicopters Skroeder seems to think it is.
Everyone Knows Morse: Subverted in the sequel; when Ben and Fred are locked in a freezer and rig a calculator to send a message to Sandy's answering machine, they discover that neither of them know Morse code. Instead, they send directions to their location using the tunes of popular songs.
Fire-Forged Friends: Fred treats Johnny like he's his personal butler (partly because Ben kept him in the dark about Johnny's AI), then tries to sell him to some corporate bigwigs, prompting Johnny to unleash the white hot rage: "He is NOT my friend!" However, after Johnny is nearly killed by Oscar's mooks, Fred scavenges the city for him and later repairs him single-handedly. By the end of the movie, they've become an Adventure Duo.
Funny Foreigner: Benjamin Jabituya. In the first movie, he was more of a Plucky Comic Relief character. In the second movie, they gave him the last name Jahrvi and tried to give him a more serious story, while still keeping him funny.
Fun with Acronyms: S.A.I.N.T. Touches on nightmare fuel, given the root is Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transport.. The SAINT series are nuke delivery platforms, designed, as explained at the start of the first film, to be para-dropped into enemy cities, use their maneuverability, intelligence, and weaponry to safely deliver their nuclear payload to their target, and then blow themselves up.
Geek Physiques: Ben and his bank robber counterpart, Saunders, are both portrayed as weaklings.
General Ripper: Schroeder decides, without bothering to listen to the guy who built it, that recovering SAINT Five requires loads and loads of military firepower aimed in the general direction of the robot regardless of the presence of innocent bystanders.
Genius Ditz: Newton Crosby ("Ph. Dork"). But he's Tony Stark when compared to his sidekick, an squirrely Indian man who thinks of nothing but sex. Number Five also qualifies, being that he's technically the youngest member of the cast.
In one scene in the second film (when Fred is getting his loan from the Loan Shark in a bar), it is very obvious that it is a stripper bar, and the woman dancing in the background, while somewhat out of focus, bares her breasts and jiggles them to her audience.
Good Costume Switch: In the first movie Johnny Five loses the plate covering his "mouth" during his escape, making him look much less intimidating than the other SAINT prototypes.
Granola Girl: Stephanie. Takes in all manner of poor and homeless animals (and one sentient robot), runs a truck that she sells natural food out of, and expresses her deep displeasure with the military and their weapons.
Hilarious Outtakes: The first film's credits play over snippets of cut scenes, including Number Five playing with a model airplane, escaping a car crusher in a junkyard, and encountering an Omnibot 2000 (a toy robot that was made during that time) trying to serve him orange juice.
Human Mail: Though not technically a human, Johnny Five mails himself to Benjamin in the city (with the help of Newton and Stephanie), after being rejected as an airplane passenger.
Humiliation Conga: How Number Five deals with Frank. First, he reduces his Pontiac Firebird into its components. Then, he effortlessly deflects a volley of shots from Frank's hunting rifle with his own hubcap. Then, he uses his laser to melt Frank's boots, hat, and belt buckle into molten slag.
I Am Not a Gun: In the second movie, Johnny has his laser weapon removed in favor of a Batman-esque utility pack.
Instant Expert: Number Five assimilates information at an insane speed, going through every volume of an encyclopedia within seconds. Notably, this doesn't help him learn morality; he's still got the mentality of a five-year old, just a very smart one.
Jerkass: Stephanie's ex-boyfriend from the first movie.
Just Think of the Potential: When asked by a Senator about the SAINT project's origins, Crosby lets slip the fact that he intended them as a marital aid. (Then again, he might've been trying to make a fool of Howard.)
Loan Shark: Fred uses one to sponsor his business with Ben, with thirty days to pay up. When the jewel thieves first confront Fred and Ben with ski masks, Fred first thinks it's the loan shark's henchmen.
Lock and Load Montage / Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Johnny Five goes through this after being beaten and left for dead by the villains, out of sheer anger that they merely kidnapped his friends, but flat out tried to KILL him. He even dons a mohawk-like set of spikes for the occasion.
Johnny Five: Oh sure, kidnap the humans, (angrily)destroy the machine!
Missed Him by That Much: Searching for the dying Johnny, Ben and the cops arrive at Radio Shack at the exact moment that Fred and Johnny exit the frame. This happens twice more during this sequence, though the final time Fred remained behind for Ben and the cops to find instead.
Mood Whiplash: Like the first film, Short Circuit 2 is a light comedy. That is, till the scene where Oscar has his goons brutally smash up Johnny 5 in near slow-motion.
No Sympathy: Crosby taking No. 2 (without permission) on his hunt for No. 5, causing Howard to wet his drawers some more.
Johnny 5's realization that disassemble equals death in the first film.
Fred's reaction in the sequel when Johnny realizes he is in a city, and Fred again when Johnny finds a bookstore.
Fred and Ben realizing that neither one of them knows Morse code.
Oscar's face right before Johnny runs his car off the road, somersaulting it into a parked van.
Odd Couple: Mild-mannered, scrupulous Ben and slovenly, amoral Fred.
An Odd Place to Sleep: Ben inherited the NOVA truck from the first movie and drove it to NYC. It doubles as his toy factory and living space. Even after Fred leases a warehouse, Ben continues to nap in a hammock in the truck (which is now parked indoors).
Operation Blank: An army general at NOVA's launch party is already fantasizing about deploying SAINT robots to nuke Moscow. "We call it Operation Gotcha Last."
Run for the Border: Oscar and his cronies devise a clever plot to smuggle the jewels into South America. Each one is hidden inside a cheap, plastic toy dinosaur; "Our gift to the Brazilian National Orphanage."
Running Gag: Skroder seems rather obsessed with food...
Skroder: What I've got is trouble, which I don't need because my wife is at home cooking a steak that's going to be dried out by the time I get there!
Skroder: They're cooking something up, I can smell it. We've got to fry 'em now, Howard!
Skroder: How many kids you got, Doctor? Crosby: None. Skroder: Well let me tell you I've got three of them. Three dandy little Skroders, and I want them to be adults, not barbeques.
Spiritual Successor: To WarGames, also directly by John Badham and starring Ally Sheedy. In both films, Ally Sheedy's character comes across a military AI that learns the value of life.
Starring Special Effects: Despite the films' relatively low budget, the animatronics used for Johnny Five were top of the line and very impressive for the time. He was designed by Blade Runner legend Syd Mead.
In the second movie, when Johnny Five first meets Benjamin, he happily shows off all his newest features, including among them "500 megabytes of storage". 500 megabytes was indeed a lot of hard drive space in 1988, when Short Circuit 2 was in theaters, but ten years later, we know that Johnny has about enough memory to store a decent but by no means flawless copy of the movie he currently stars in. The Italian adaptation got a Lucky Translation here. Translated back into English, Johnny 5 says he has "improved memory, 500 megabytes online", without any mention of storage, which leads viewers to think he was talking about RAM, not hard drive space. Of course, technology has still marched on from computers with 512 megabytes of RAM, but it took a lot more time.
For a more justifiable version of this trope, see Benjamin's lament that neither he nor Fred is carrying a phone.
The opening shot shows a tank running over flowers.
Johnny learns about death when he accidentally tramples a grasshopper.
Unwitting Pawn: Johnny, in the second movie. Twice. In the beginning he steals just about a dozen car radios after being deceived by a gang to believe that he was helping them do their jobs as the "Department of Car Stereo Repair"; and later when Oscar tricks him into digging into the bank vault, thinking it was to create a safe place for Ben. Don't worry, he fixes it.
Verbal Tic: Johnny Five likes to list synonyms of words.
We Used to Be Friends: Newton calls out Howard Marner on this, claiming that back when they were both scientists, Howard would have realized the value of Johnny Five's sentience. Howard bluntly replies, "I'm a businessman. I'm not a scientist anymore."
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: It takes a lot of convincing before the human leads will concede that Number Five is alive and not Just a Machine. This is the main moral premise of both films, leading to the end of the second movie in which Johnny is publicly declared a sentient being and made a citizen of the United States.
What the Hell Is That Accent?: Lampshaded when Newton asks Ben where he's from, and when he finds out it's in India asks where his parents are from. "Pittsburgh."
Wild Goose Chase: Number 5 notices his Tracking Device and throws it into the pick up truck of an elderly couple. The soldiers in pursuit of him find the couple instead.
Wife:(gasps as dozens of soldiers aim their guns at them) I hope you took the grass out of the glove compartment! Husband:(as a very puzzled Skroder walks up to the driver's side window) ... anything wrong, officer?
You Are Number Five: He starts as just a number, but gives himself the name Johnny Five. Ben calls him "Number Johnny Five".