Short Circuit

Year: 1986

Production: Turman-Foster / Tri-Star

Director: John Badham

Starring: Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton, G.W. Bailey, Marvin J. McIntyre

Screenwriter: S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock

98 minutes; Color


Badham's fuzzy-minded technophilia, previously seen in Blue Thunder (1983) and WarGames (1983), resurfaces in this film, in which the director yet again justifies his fascination with the cinematic delights of death-dealing gadgetry through a plot in which a machine designed as an instrument of mass devastation is bent to the slightly anachronistic cause of peace and love. Here, the mechanical star is Number Five, a military robot who is struck by magical lightning and develops self-awareness, deserting from his martinet masters to pal around with boy genius Guttenberg and scatty modern miss Sheedy, while the Evil Establishment sets out to track it down and smash it to pieces. There is some sort of progression, in that the moral judgment is neither imposed by a conventional screen hero (as in Blue Thunder) nor coaxed out of the machine through simplistic rational argument (as in WarGames), but is generated spontaneously within the sentient circuits of Number Five just as arbitrarily as the Frankensteinian lightning bolt brings it to life. This gradual shift towards a species of mechanist mysticism is matched by Badham's loss of the suspense movie verve that made his earlier variations on the theme work as streamlined entertainments (if not as assessments of the role of the machine in modern society).

Following the lead of the awkward middle section of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), which is virtually reprised in the initial sheltering of Number Five by Sheedy, and the rather more accomplished teen movie asides of WarGames, Badham here makes the general tone of the film sit-com bland. The corporate villains are buffoons who pose no threat to the resourceful robot or his friends, and Guttenberg and Sheedy demonstrate their proven amiability in vacuum-filling roles. Given that Number Five is capable of a wide range of expression, it is unfortunate that the script's demands on him - impersonations of John Travolta, John Wayne, Elmer Fudd and George Raft - are so minimal. Further, it is unfortunate and distasteful that Stevens, in the role of Guttenberg's East Indian sidekick, should be allowed to resuscitate the Peter Sellers caricature, complete with "goodness gracious me" malapropisms, which has been unacceptable on the grounds of racism even on British tv since the early 1970s.

The sequel is Short Circuit 2 (1988).

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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