Reviews: Short Circuit

A robot flipped me off

The original Short Circuit is a buddy comedy, with Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens as two inept nerds trying to retrieve the robot before the army destroys it. The CEO of the robotics company is a sympathizer, as he was once a scientist... but don't count on him seeing the light until the closing minutes. Ally Sheedy befriends the robot and is kooky, and her ex-boyfriend is evil and drives a Thunderbird. Shame if anything should happen to it...

The movie is rather muted, set mostly in the backwoods of Washington. Tim Blaney voices Johnny, and he is charming. But as the movie grinds on, he starts speaking entirely in worn TV catchphrases. It's pretty awful. He turns into a corporate mascot.

The sequel switches scenery to the big city. Guttenberg did not come back, and Sheedy (literally) phones it in, so now Stevens is the lead. On the surface, everything about this sequel is disastrous. But, somehow, it pulls out of a nosedive.

As pointed out by the Nostalgia Critic, the Ben character is a racist caricature but lovable, like Latka from Taxi or Tony from Wings. Fisher Stevens does a lot to humanize the character, taking a horny Bollywood stereotype (oh hai, Big Bang Theory) and making him kind and relatable. I buy him more as Johnny's lonely inventor than I did with Guttenberg. The new sidekick is Michael McKean, channeling Midnight Cowboy, and it comes as no surprise he's the best actor here.

Johnny is a perpetual damsel in distress. Everyone wants to sell him or exploit him. Being that he's a dumb robot (from the sticks), he gets tricked by every New Yorker he meets. Blaney is a lot less irritating in this film, partly because the story is really dark: Johnny questions whether he's really alive or just a glitch, and is nearly killed numerous times. Both movies are very juvenile, but the sequel is less slapstick. The ending is a Reaganesque affirmation of the American Dream, but not overly syrupy.

Some people like 2; lots of people hate it. I thought it was a step up from the original, which had a great-looking robot but not much in the way of plot.