Blast from the Past: Short Circuit

Title: Short Circuit
Starring: Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton, G.W. Bailey
Director: John Badham
Written by: S.S. Wilson & Brent Maddock

Synopsis: Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy co-star in this high-tech comedy adventure about Number Five, a robot who escapes into the real world after he short-circuits in an electrical storm and decides that he’s human. Because he’s carrying destructive weapons, the Defense Department and his designer (Guttenberg) are desperate to find him. But Number Five is being protected by a young woman (Sheedy) who is teaching him a gentler way of life.

Short Circuit, a comedy adventure, created in 1986 starring Steve Guttenberg (Cocoon, Police Academy, Three Men and a Baby) and Ally Sheedy (The Breakfast Club, WarGames) may not have won an academy award for best film or be remembered as one of the great comedies of its time, but the memory of the main character Number Five is etched in the minds of many people, even to this day. The wise cracking robot who made the phrases “Disassemble”, “Need Input” and “Number Five is Alive” famous is a classic character from the past who is still known and idolized by an 80’s generation that looked up to his antics in the film.

Some film fans even believe that the successful 2008 Disney/Pixar cartoon film Wall-E was based on the original Number Five character, which would not be a surprise due to the popularity of the character at the peak of the Short Circuit franchise. Number Five was so popular that Short Circuit spawned a sequel Short Circuit 2 in which Number Five was renamed Johnny Five, the name it is most known for when referencing the character.

The original story featured five robot creations made to be used as weapons by the robotics company Nova Robotics. Created by Newton Crosby (Guttenberg) and Ben Jabituya (Fisher Stevens) the robots featured laser weaponry and superior intelligence that was going to put America at the forefront of military weapons. When Nova puts the five units on display at a function a storm occurs, which results in Number Five being struck by electricity while sitting near a reactor core. The electrical blast damages Number Five’s circuits and he in turn escapes Nova, by accident, and ends up in the loving hands of Stephanie Speck (Sheedy), a animal caregiver and food wagon owner, who has trust issues with men thanks to her ex-boyfriend Frank (Brian McNamara).

Number Five eventually becomes self-aware and believes he is actually alive, a living breathing being with emotions rather then a robot with no feelings. Speck initially thinks that Number Five is an alien life form and that she has made the greatest discovery on Earth. She invites the “alien life form” into her animal-filled home and obliges at supplying it with “More Input” via encyclopaedias and television.

After a plethora of input intake Speck discovers after an accident that Number Five is a robot and immediately reconsiders housing the unit due to her familiarity of Nova and their military ties. Throughout the film, Nova’s high-strung front-man Howard Marner (Austin Pendleton) loses his cool several times due to the $11 million cost of Number Five and instructs Crosby and Jabituya to track down the unit, with hot-headed military honcho Skroeder (G.W. Bailey) hot on Number Five’s trail as well.

The film becomes a comedy filled adventure story as Number Five and Speck try to avoid the insane Skroeder and prove to Crosby that Number Five is indeed alive. Speck and Crosby, after many tense moments due to Speck’s insecurity, become romantic interests while Number Five and Jabitutya provide the majority of the comedy antics in the film. Crosby eventually realizes that Number Five is alive and joins forces with Jabituya and Speck to protect Number Five from a return to Nova or capture at the hands of Skroeder. Number Five foils Skroeder, Nova and even the other four Nova robots and the group of nomads escape into the sunset in Speck’s food wagon, where Number Five deems himself Johnny.

Sheedy plays the role of a mother-type parental figure with Number Five throughout the film and does an excellent job. Her loving nature towards Number Five and delivery behind her hate towards Frank was a delightful change from the “basket case” character that made her famous in her role as Allison Reynolds in The Breakfast Club.

Guttenberg’s role as Crosby, the creator of Number Five, comes up short. The effort just didn’t seem there from Guttenberg and it felt like anyone could have played the role. His role is actually over-shadowed by the outstanding comedic work of Stevens, whose character Jabituya is a fast-talking Indian from Bakersfield (originally from Pittsburgh) whose obsession with the female form and incorrect use of standard slang creates a barrel of laughs.

Bailey’s role as Skroeder is almost identical to those he played in the Police Academy series. His role of Skroeder was pretty much on-par with his career so watching him play a role that did not push him out of his comfort zone was boring.

Pendleton was also a disappointment. He managed to give the audience the high-strung and paranoid character expected of his role as Marner, but he consistently became more annoying as the film went on. His character was far too much of a pushover, especially considering he was the big boss behind a powerhouse such as Nova. He consistently gave into Crosby and Skroeder and lost the possible appeal of being a villainous head of an evil corporation, which would have worked for the character.

The obvious standout is Number Five. The robot delivers witty dialogue combined with memorable moments, such as replicating the classic dance sequence of Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever and his impressions of The Three Stooges, Vin Scully and John Wayne were humorous. The robot delivers an enjoyable and entertaining viewing experience for fans of all ages.

Short Circuit will always be an entertaining and classic comedy-adventure film and how could it not with an outstanding lead such as Number Five. “Number Five is Alive” will always be a memorable quote in my opinion and so will this film.

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