Short Circuit 2 (1988)

28 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

This is not how it goes. Sequels are not supposed to succeed far above their original films. But that’s the case with “Short Circuit 2,” a far better movie than its predecessor “Short Circuit.” The only thing that movie had going for it was a cute robot with an appealing comic personality. The problem was it was sidelined with an idiotic plot and Steve Guttenberg. But now, with “Short Circuit 2,” the robot—now named Johnny Five—is in a movie worthy of him. Yes, I called the robot “him.” Why? Because the robot is alive. Johnny Five has a mind of its own. You might recall in the original film, he got struck by lightning and was brought to life magically.

“Short Circuit 2” also features Fisher Stevens, whom you might remember from the original film as the Indian man named Ben. He’s the one who helped Guttenberg construct Johnny Five in the first place. Ben is now selling goods on the streets of New York—in this case, he’s selling six-inch lookalikes of Johnny Five. They’re real treats to have. The attractive Sandy (Cynthia Gibb), who is a worker for a toy company, notices these little robots and is very impressed. She and Ben strike a deal—if Ben can make a thousand of these little robots by the end of the month, they will be marketed and purchased. Ben agrees, and to his reluctance, he gains assistance from a wise-cracking street hustler named Fred (Michael McKean) and gets himself an abandoned building to gain a factory to work inside. But things don’t go well and burglars keep trying to get in because there’s a tunnel under the floor of that building that may lead to a bank vault. Are you still with me?

Anyway, Johnny Five is sent in a package to Ben and Fred to help. He does a spectacular job too. But Johnny Five is always hungry for more “input” and when he realizes he’s in a city, he constantly comes out of the factory to explore. In one funny scene, he comes across a street gang and unwittingly helps them steal lots of car radios. I like the way he imitates a crazed car salesman when he shows the gang the radios he stole. You see, Johnny Five can get a lot of input from reading books in just a few mere seconds. But mostly, he just imitates what he sees on TV. This is charming. Don’t we all imitate what we see on TV every once in a while?

Of course the people in the city make fun of the robot. This is where “Short Circuit 2” gets its seriousness. Johnny Five, since he has a mind of his own, feels left out of society. He has thoughts and feelings and now he feels that as a robot, he’s not human. And nobody in the city is treating him like a human. All he wants is respect. Don’t we all?

But since this is a robot, you have to ask yourself this question—“Do you care if the creature’s life is in jeopardy?” The answer is yes. Johnny Five unwittingly helps the burglars get to the bank vault (he trusts their leader) and the leader of the burglars sees Johnny Five as a witness that can identify them. That brings us to the intense showstopping scene in which Johnny Five is being smashed by the bad guys. That scene shocked me and frightened me, so I really did care for this robot’s “life.”

“Short Circuit 2” isn’t just about that robot. The characters of Ben and Fred are actually kind of interesting. Ben is an Indian man waiting to become an American citizen and Fred is trying to get rich but he knows what’s right in the end—the refreshing thing about his character before that point is that he’s not a bad guy. Then there’s the crush Ben has with Sandy, who of course feels something for him too. There’s a funny scene where Ben is given help from Johnny Five (with Johnny Five flashing sentences on a billboard) in order to talk to Sandy on their first date.

There’s another scene I want to mention. When the burglars lock Ben and Fred up in a freezer of a Chinese restaurant, Ben has access to a phone but can’t talk on it. So he calls Sandy and uses the numbers to match tones of popular songs. Those songs work as a map for Sandy to follow and find Ben. That’s a fun scene.

“Short Circuit 2” is a much better film than the original “Short Circuit.” The filmmakers really put some thought into it, there’s a fun tone to it, and that robot is just so darn likable. It’s great to look at and funny to listen to. Voiced by Tim Blaney, the robot has an appealing personality. Johnny Five is finally in a movie that is worthy of him.

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