Circuitry Man (1990) — When you’re in the mood for juvenile cyberpunk

“I’m going to fill your plugs with slugs!”

Justin’s rating: Autoexec.bat and Config.sys rock the shazbot!

Justin’s review: Let’s take baby steps back through the cyberpunk genre for a bit. Oh, we had The Matrix. You liked Matrix? Matrix good. And no, there weren’t any sequels. No, shh, shh, it was just a bad dream. Baby step back a bit, and we hit Johnny Mnemonic, where the street value ain’t so high, and the gear is starting to look a bit clunky for the “near future.” Oh, but Johnny looks sleek and sophisticated compared with our next stop, 1990’s Circuitry Man, where one million bucks bought you a C-acting cast, sewer leeches, a guy with IBM 386 chips on his head, and a bunch of cheap, cheap knives. It’s still cyberpunk, or so they tell us, but when the special effects are borrowed from a discount 1970s scifi warehouse (don’t even mention CGI around this film), the believability factor takes a dip.

I wasn’t kidding about the $1 million budget. Circuitry Man is the type of sci-fi movie where the plot was wrapped around whatever semi-effective sets (read: parking garages) and flimsy gadgetry could be constructed. Yet there’s a weird, almost likable movie that’s worth digging through the gooey trash can of low-budget trappings to find.

The (convenient) setup here is that all plants and oceans on the earth have died due to pollution, mankind lives underground, and people are really big into virtual reality for entertainment. I blame California for earth’s demise; They seem to have a lot of environmentalists out there, yet you can’t see most of the cities due to the smog. Maybe the environmentalists have to drive around a lot to get to their meetings, I’m not sure.

Our heroine, Lori, is tasked with taking some special computer chips to NYC to sell. Since she’s really good for nothing more than growling and glaring — the hallmark traits of a bad actress lacking direction to give her battle-hardened character any depth — Lori enlists the help of a Romeo (hooker android) and some weirdo who smokes pot and plays with a flamethrower.

Our motley crew flees cross country through a series of parking lots (called “The Maze”) that can get you from Los Angeles to New York if you know how to drive it. While this sparks the imagination, to think of an entire highway system underground, it also begs the question of why people would build parking lots everywhere in America — including places where no one has ever lived, nor driven a car. And then, why or how they hooked up thousands of miles of parking lots together. My guess is, there’s a giganto mall somewhere up top where Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado used to be.

The trio gets chased by our semi-psychotic villain, a cyborg named Plughead. Hey, let’s play a fun game! Guess what Plughead does? If you guessed “Um, plugs something into his head”, then you win the teddy bear! He’s supposed to be the real star power of the show, what with his bulging eyes and shaved chrome covered with ancient computer RAM chips, but you just can’t convince me that he’s any threat. At worst, I can see him as a surly bus boy at a Denny’s, but that’s the limit of his evil presence.

My recommendation is that you should have some good, loyal friends to watch this with. It’s a pretty funny movie for the most part, and while some of it’s due to the goofy tone and jokes they sprinkle about, the lion’s share comes from the juvenile acting. Honestly, all of the people in Circuitry Man talk and act like they’re seven years old. The villain pops out one-liners on the level of “I don’t throw up, I grow up,” and everyone else sports exaggerated reactions to everything, while being somewhat serious about it. The best analogy I can think of — and I’ve spent at least ten minutes trying — is if you saw a class of third graders try to put on a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream with all earnestness. It’s hilarious through the juxtaposition.

What Circuitry Man lacks in polish or any sort of decent special effects, it more than compensates with sheer moxy and a strange fun value. If you can let go of the one and embrace the other, your time will be well spent with this uncanny post-apocalyptic flick.

Didja notice?

  • The title font is obviously the Terminator font
  • There’s a lot of weird kink going on in the first few minutes
  • Murder of a mannequin
  • You can drive without plugging. Bet you didn’t know that.
  • Why are all the underground parking lots still lit?
  • Sewer leeches!
  • Jody’s March calendar
  • Is it exactly safe to sleep with your flamethrower on?
  • You can drive through walls in the future for no good reason
  • The oxygen bar looks suspiciously like someone’s parent’s rec room
  • Androids need to breathe?
  • With your lips? Whatever, weirdo
  • Being pulled apart by four motorcycles is not a nice way to die
  • The opening text says that pollution killed off all the plants, but in the surface scenes, we see a lot of plant life

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