Short Circuit (1986) is a film which anyone old enough to remember first time round, will look back on with nostalgia as a defining sci-fi movie of the 1980s. However viewed now, the family comedy starring Ally Sheedy, Police Academy’s Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens, is likely to leave you distinctly underwhelmed. Struck by lightning during a freak storm, experimental military robot Number 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney), is given a new lease of life. Escaping from the high security military compound where he was created, Number 5 is befriended and given a home by the eccentric Stephanie Speck (Sheedy) who believes him to be an alien.
However when both the army and Number 5’s creator Newton Crosby (Guttenberg), along with his assistant Ben Jabituya (Stevens), come looking for him the scene is set for pandemonium to break loose with chaotic results. Short Circuit’s appeal is unfortunately restricted to its retro 1980s look and not much else. Like music, books or indeed most art forms, films frequently have an indefinable aura of the time in which they first appeared, and those from the 80s were no exception.
Many of the big screen hits of the mid-to-late 80s period, made in the wake of the success of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, were sci-fi-driven narratives. However the appeal of blockbusters like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Back to the Future (1985) when watched now often depends as much on their feel as what actually takes place in them, and unfortunately the same goes for Short Circuit. Everything about the film’s look is spot on, in particular Number 5 who, though rather clunky in appearance does have a certain bizarre appeal, whilst his disjointed electronic voice is just kooky enough to hold younger children’s attention without scaring them off.
The film’s period sensitivities are also its downfall, with it lacking the sophistication modern family audiences (the demographic to which the film was originally aimed) now expect. As a result a jerky bug eyed robot on wheels is unlikely to cut it an age where pin-sharp CGI-generated creatures are the norm. Adults who are also hoping for a trip down memory lane will likely find the racial stereotype inferences of Steven’s Indian character, and the sheer ditsiness of Sheedy’s Stephanie, not to mention the social disfunctionality of Guttenberg’s mad scientist, at best irritating, whilst at worst offensive.
Though accompanied by an array of extras including a featurette on ‘The Creation of Number 5’ and interviews with the cast and crew, and bolstered by an impressively crystal-clear Blu-ray transfer, Short Circuit simply lacks the spark to bring it to life for 21st century audiences.