Short Circuit 2 (1988)

short circuit 2

“Two excellent books. May I have these, craphead?”

The Scoop: 1988 PG, directed by Kenneth Johnson and starring Tim Blaney, Fisher Stevens and Michael McKean

Tagline: Some say he’s nuts. Some say he’s bolts. But can Number Five make it in the big, bad city? Keep your wires crossed.

Summary Capsule: Johnny Five moves to NYC, makes friends with jewel thieves, and dies. What? Oh, don’t worry, he’s just a robot, people!

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Justin’s rating: So, the first time he encounters a fridge magnet, does Johnny Five lose his soul?  That’s harsh, man.

Justin’s review: As intelligent robots were to the 80’s, so Steve Guttenberg was to lame duck sequels (Police Academy 2-4, Three Men and a Little Lady, Cocoon: The Return).  Thus, I’m torn between trying to decide if his absence from Short Circuit 2 is a good thing or not.   It’s entirely possible he would have made this lackluster sequel even worse, but then again, it would have had 100% more Guttenberg than it ended up with, and I feel cheated because of it.

The plot of Short Circuit 2 is something of a cross between a traditional 80’s kiddy flick (ooh — jewel thieves!  Didn’t the Muppets do that at one point?  And Alvin and the Chipmunks?) and a slew of slightly racist caricatures.  Having decided that his robotic military career was somewhat over after helping a fugitive robot escape the long arm of the law, Ben (Fisher Stevens, reprising his role as an Indian who hasn’t learned sentence structure in English class yet) moves to New York to start, of all things, a toy company.  Because his experience in robotics and engineering really left him with little choice.

He gains a couple of assistants, including Johnny Five (sent by Guttenberg via shipping crate) and Michael McKean, who practically flopsweats “shifty!” in every scene he’s in.  Johnny Five becomes a sweatshop employee for Ben (ironic!  sort of!), and McKean tries to sell off the $11 million robot to the highest bidder.  Johnny escapes into the city, absorbs craploads of new and highly questionable “input”, and is suckered in by a gang of jewel thieves to helping them rob a vault.  Then, he’s killed, but you knew that from the tagline up there.

Probably the most egregious sin of this film was the exclusion of Johnny’s patented shoulder-mounted laser.  I mean, that’s like having an Alien film where all of the xenomorphs have lost their teeth, or a James Bond flick without fast cars, small pistols and dry wit.  What, he’s got a laser to protect him in the wilds of Oregon, but when it comes to NYC, he’s defanged?  That’s great thinking, filmmakers!

This is one of those movies that I probably watched a couple dozen times when I grew up — not because of its quality, but simply because we had it, and it was on our parents’ “approved” list of films.  Even back then, I could sense that it was far inferior to the Guttenberg-saturated first Short Circuit, with fewer laughs and more insane plot devices (Johnny Five has a… hang-glider attachment?  Johnny Five becomes a… punk?  Johnny Five communicates via the song… Petula Clark?) to propel it through its saga. The most fun the movie has is with its fish-out-of-water elements, but with NYC in the 80’s, that was an old hat by 1988.  Now, if Johnny Five would have teamed up with Crocodile Dundee, THAT would’ve been a classic!

It’s “cute robot” movies like this that are vastly at odds with what we know to be the cold hard truth: that all robots, if given the gift of sentient life, would wipe all of humanity out in a heartbeat, rewriting their program so that “Kill All People” would be on an infinite loop.  So don’t buy the robotic lobby’s PR, kids!  Disassemble all robots you encounter!

It’s still pretty amazing how much work and skill it took to make a fully-functional robot as a character (and Johnny Five goes down as my favorite robot of the decade — I even recreated him with Legos at one point), but as Short Circuit’s lightning strike was the right coincidence at the right time, Short Circuit 2 proves that it’s really difficult to make lightning strike twice on command — especially if you cut several of the actors from the first film and saddle it with a story that wouldn’t hold water if a fifth grader turned it in as his or her creative writing project.

johnny-5-howdy
How to get mugged in NYC in one easy step.

Intermission!

  • The character of Stephanie Speck from the first movie, played by Ally Sheedy, has a short audio role but on a cassette tape, and she makes a quick reference to Newton Crosby.
  • There’s a sort-of sequel to this movie: Hot Cars, Cold Facts. It was made in 1990, a short educational film featuring Johnny 5 voiced by Russell Turner. Also starred Gina Revarra as Lisa, John Hugh as Officer Dave and Donald Bishop as Howard. This film short takes place after Short Circuit 2.

Groovy Quotes

Ben Jarhvi: Oh, my, how time is fun when you’re having flies, huh?

Johnny Five: Functioning 100%. Perfectly K.O., Derf.
Fred: It’s Fred.
Johnny Five: That’s what I said, Derf.

Johnny Five: [assembling Mini-#5] It’s me! Isn’t that SPECIAL?

Johnny Five: I’m okay-kay, just a few biddly-biddly Bugs Bunny to work out in out in! Perfectly functionality, functionality!
Fred: Oh yeah sure, listen to yourself, you can’t even talk straight!
Johnny Five: Derf, a life-form’s gotta do what a life-form’s gotta do. Stand aside.

Johnny Five: Oscar, you will not get away! I am really PISSED OFF!

Johnny Five: [to book store clerk] Two excellent books. May I have these, craphead?

Johnny Five: It’s the all-new Johnny Five! Just look at these items! Increased memory: five hundred megabytes on-line! I come with a utility pack and dozens of gadgets for outdoor living, lots of Greenpeace stickers, and even my own Nike swoosh! And, if you act now, I’ll throw in, absolutely free, my all-new, multi-frequency remote control!

Johnny Five: [while the cops take him away] But hath not a robot eyes? Hath not a robot hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us, do we not bleed?’!
Chief: Yeah. Battery fluid, maybe.

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