Short Circuit 2

February 9, 2012

The producers of the Short Circuit movies are in a secure position with their star property. Unlike other Hollywood heavyweights, the collection of hardware known as No. Five will never require a percentage of the gross, never demand a bigger Winnebago, never need to take a month off to detox at the Betty Ford Center.

He probably shouldn’t be left out in the rain, but other than that, No. Five is pretty reliable. So, for that matter, is Short Circuit 2, which uses the same brand of funny-robot humor as the original film.

Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy, the other stars of the first Short Circuit, have gone on to other projects. This may be part of the reason Short Circuit 2 is a better movie than the first film. In the new installment, the first film’s scientist (Fisher Stevens) from India occupies center stage. He’s the one who’s given to tortuous, subcontinental-inflected malapropisms. If you think ethnic dialect humor is funny (and I plead nolo contendre to this guilty pleasure), his performance contains a few laughs.

The Indian scientist and No. Five, now known as Johnny Five, are in a large metropolis (filmed in Toronto) trying to assemble small robots for the toy market. Somehow, they’ve gotten hooked up with a street hawker (Michael McKean) who eyeballs Johnny Five’s $11 million price tag and figures he can make a real killing.

But this isn’t the only plot a-hatching. There’s also a bank robbery being planned, and the robot-assembly warehouse stands in the way.

This last bit overextends the movie and even takes it in the direction of pathos. See, when the bad guys get hold of Johnny Five, they gum up his wires and disconnect his whangdoodle. The robot is in danger of dying, or as much as an input-satiated machine can be in danger of “dying,” anyway.

The robot is the same perky compendium of modern culture; he spits out rock ‘n’ roll and biblical references with equal facility, and even alludes to such up-to-date cultural icons as Chuch Lady from “Saturday Night Live” and the ubiquitous California Raisins. (The robot’s voice is dubbed by Tim Blaney.)

I couldn’t stand the original movie. That robot was just too cutesy-poo. The sequel still has a lot of cutesy and quite a bit of poo, but I have to admit that Short Circuit 2 is shrewdly assembled. The original writing team, S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, repeat their roles here, and director Kenneth Johnson, a TV veteran, keeps things running.

There’s even one scene that finds real charm. The shy scientist has a crush on a toy executive (Cynthia Gibb) and invites her out, but he needs the words of Johnny Five when it comes to wooing her. So, Cyrano-like, the robot’s proddings are transmitted to a large readerboard that the scientist can easily scan—a procedure that works fine until technical difficulties interrupt the broadcast. Just for a moment, though, that robot does seem almost human.

First published in the Herald, July 7, 1988

The law of low expectations wins out here; this movie had to look okay, compared to the first one. I understand a reboot is afoot. With luck, I’ll be out of the business by then. And I still like dialect humor, sadly.