Short Circuit Review

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Short Circuit Review

By Daniel King.

Another fondly-remembered kids movie that’s in line for a 21st century remake, Short Circuit was directed by journeyman John Badham and originally released in May 1986. It stars Ally Sheedy, who also appeared in Badham’s War Games three years earlier, and Steve Guttenberg, who was the grand poobah of middle of the road American comedies until Tom Hanks came along and proved to be less annoying.

Unsurprisingly, for a film made in Ronald Reagan’s America, it deals with military technology, specifically a prototype robot that has been developed for combat duties. On the day when the project leaders (Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens) are demonstrating their new hardware to assorted bigwigs, one of the prototypes – Number Five – is struck by lightning, giving it ‘life’ Frankenstein-style. Newly sentient Number Five wanders happily off as the army boys charge around trying to retrieve him, eventually making his way to the home of Stephanie Speck (Sheedy), a kooky animal-loving hippy activist type. Initially taking him to be an alien, Stephanie teaches Number Five about Earth and, sigh, what it means to be human.



John Badham was, and probably still is, a consummate professional who made a career out of delivering slick mainstream movies – BLUE THUNDER, STAKEOUT, BIRD ON A WIRE, they’re all his – so it’s no surprise that this too is a slick mainstream movie. That said, it is breathtakingly winsome: Number Five (while a magnificent creation by the effects team, led by Syd Mead who worked on BLADE RUNNER and ALIENS) is so twee he makes R2D2 look like the Terminator. At one point, Stephanie teaches him to dance and as they hoof round her living room he croons ‘More Than a Woman’ to her.

Naturally it all ends happily ever after with the status quo not so much restored as reinforced with concrete, the message being ‘good things happen to nice middle-class white people who then do the decent thing and get married and have lots of middle-class white children’. There are only two ethnic characters in the whole movie: one is Ally Sheedy’s housekeeper and the other is played by a white actor adopting a comedy Indian accent that would make Peter Sellers blush. In fact the whole enterprise is so conservative it might as well have ‘Vote Republican’ roll across the screen every five minutes. If you’re getting the impression that I didn’t like it then you’d be right on the money but then it’s not aimed at the likes of me so whatever I might think of it as entertainment is by the by. That doesn’t mean to say though that I can’t find the sensibility at work behind a film like this appalling.

The film director and noted Marxist Alex Cox once said that if you’re a fascist in Hollywood then you work with great regularity and that since he was not a fascist, he didn’t. Now, I don’t know if John Badham was or is a fascist, but I do know that he worked with great regularity in Hollywood, probably because he gave them exactly what they wanted: films that were delivered on time, on budget and that made a profit. I can’t put my hand on my heart and say that Short Circuit is a bad film: it has one or two good laughs, a couple of rather sweet moments and it’s performed with enthusiasm but it is an example of why in the main I find mainstream Hollywood films uninteresting – never at any stage does it even remotely look like it’s going to do anything other than exactly what you expect it to.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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