johnlink ranks SHORT CIRCUIT (1986)

I was sure I had seen SHORT CIRCUIT somewhere along the way during my misguided youth. But as I watched this with my son today, I realized that I have never seen it front-to-back all the way through. There are actually a surprising number of 80s movies that I would say that I haven’t seen – technically – since I never sat down and watched them linearly. They are all movies that I know enough about to quote and reference as needed, but I’ve never just got through. Those would include NEVER-ENDING STORY and DARK CRYSTAL. But I’ll shut up before some of my childhood friends get too mad at me…


I watched SHORT CIRCUIT (1986) on 6.13.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

Nearly 30 years after this was made, it is easy to forget how hard a movie like this used to be to make. The central character is Number 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney – who also was the puppeteer controlling him in necessary scenes) and he is a robot. He is one of a series of military-built machines which we see demonstrating an ability to blow things up. But an electrical storm hits and Number 5x gets a jolt. That jolt leads to ‘life’ as he becomes self-aware.

This is all played for laughs, of course. He is on the run from the company which built him: NOVA. His creator is Newton (Steve Guttenberg) who starts as a member of the chase, then wants to save the thing, and then takes a painfully long time to believe what we the audience already know about his creation’s consciousness. Newton is accompanied by his famously accented sidekick, Ben (Fisher Stevens) who provides a legitimate level of laughter to then film. But the real savior for 5 is Stephanie (Ally Sheedy), who protects him while he is on the run, teaches him, and (it would seem) sort of… falls in love with him.

But that last bit is for another – weirder – reading of the film. In truth, we know that Newton and Stephanie will end up together no matter how frustratingly long their trust issues play out. If there is something that dates this movie it is actually not the special effects (which are mostly practical and work great); the biggest problem with this movie is the pacing. We all know where this is going, and the audience knows way more than some of the characters for way too long. For a 95 minute movie, this thing takes a surprisingly long time to get into its second act, and then to get its leading male and female together. As funny as the stuff with 5 and Stephanie are, it feels like there is so much potential that this movie never tapped. We get the fish-out-of-water stuff for sure. But there is not enough of what happens once 5 figures it all out.

Is that too harsh for what is, ultimately, a kid’s flick? Perhaps. And there is nothing wrong with a movie which doesn’t follow standard Hollywood three-act structure. It’s just that SHORT CIRCUIT is not circumventing the standard consciously, it is merely a movie which takes to long to get where we want it to go.

All that means is that SHORT CIRCUIT will merely be a funny, entertaining movie which is maybe not quite as good as it could be. The performances are good enough (also funny are Austin Pendleton as the boss and G.W. Bailey as the guy trying to kill the robot despite the fact that the thing has gone days without hurting a fly). The good bits are frequent enough. And, most importantly, the robotic work and the special effects never make you feel like anything is fake. Enough can’t be said about how good Number 5 – who we all know becomes Johnny 5 – looks.



The bonus point is for the robot creation and the use of practical effects which bring the main character to life.


FINAL SCORE: 5.75 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on June 13, 2015.

7 Responses to “johnlink ranks SHORT CIRCUIT (1986)”

  1. Nice review. 🙂 I watched this again a few years ago after of course growing up with it. Yeah, it suffers from horrible pacing in the way so many 80’s films do. I know it’s cheesy but I’ll always be fond of it. And Johnny 5 is a great character. 🙂

    • So true. My 4 year old ranks him as the third best robot character behind R2-D2 and Wall-E. And he is the expert around here, haha.

      • I totally agree with that! I have a list of my top robots that I keep meaning to post at some point & those are my top two as well. 🙂

  2. “No disassemble Johnny 5!”

    Showed this to my kids about a year or two ago. They didn’t seem to like it until the robot left NOVA. Then they wouldn’t stop laughing, especially at lines like “Your mother was a snowblower!”

  3. I loved this movie so much as a kid and Johnny 5 definitely makes my top movie robot list. It isn’t a great movie by any means but it’s fun and it brings back a lot of childhood memories.

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