Sunday, August 28, 2016


Rated PG
Running time: 110 min.
Release date: July 6, 1988

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When a film like Short Circuit meets with surprising box office success, it's not unusual for a sequel to be mandated. So along comes Short Circuit 2 but minus two of the stars involved in the original's success, Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy. That alone would normally spell trouble for a sequel. However, the end result is still quite likable even with more issues than just the lack of returning stars.

Returning for this second go-round is Fisher Stevens as Ben Jahrvi, the sidekick of Steve Guttenberg's character from the first film. Lets just address the elephant in the room: Stevens is American but he portrays a most stereotypical Indian trying to earn a living while earning his U.S. citizenship. In this era, casting a most certainly white actor as an Indian would ruffle some feathers and cause quite the storm on social media. After a few scenes, you will forget that issue, however; unless you're mirthless and miserable and don't have a sense of humor, then you'll just stop the film in protest. Fisher Stevens portraying a foreign character is fine. Ben is selling toy robots that he created on the streets of New York (actually filmed in Toronto) when one of the robots manages to find its way to a buyer for a toy company, Sandy (Cynthia Gibb). She has been struggling to please her boss with ideas and finds this robot would make a great Christmas addition, so she requests a thousand of the robots. Overhearing this conversation is con artist watch peddler, Fred Ritter (Michael McKean). He inserts himself into the situation as Ben's "partner" and promises they can produce the number of robots she needs. Fred goes to a loan shark to acquire the capital they need and produces a derelict warehouse for Ben to set up shop.

The warehouse just happens to be the workplace for a pair of criminals who are attempting to tunnel underground to the bank across the street in an attempt to steal a valuable gemstone collection. This hampers their operation so they don some masks and show up to destroy the equipment and run off the paid labor (although they were paid in McNuggets). At a loss for how to move on, we get the timely appearance of our robot hero from the first film, Johnny 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney). Johnny was sent by Ben's friends Newton and Stephanie to help with his toy-making operation. Johnny also defends the warehouse from the thieves when they return to finish the job. Johnny helps Ben and Fred meet their deadline, but craving "input", Johnny manages to leave the warehouse and tour the city. He is met with rude and unfriendly behavior, but we get one funny scene where he helps a street gang called Los Locos rip off car stereos.

Johnny is befriended by Oscar (Jack Weston), who works in the bank across the street. Little does Johnny (or the audience) know that Oscar is actually the brains behind the tunneling operation and plans on using Johnny to help accomplish his goals. Meanwhile, Fred, ever the opportunist, learns that Johnny is worth millions and attempts to sell him to an engineering company. Johnny runs off and we get another scene of Johnny trying to fit in amongst New Yorkers. When Ben catches up with him, we learn that Ben suddenly has feelings for Sandy and Johnny plots to help him woo her in a scene not too far removed from Cyrano de Bergerac. Eventually, the plot needs to kick in at some point, so Oscar tricks Johnny into completing the tunnel while Ben and Fred are kidnapped and locked in the freezer of a Chinese restaurant. As we'll find out later, in one of the more sillier scenes in the film, it's a good thing the restaurant happened to be named Doo Wah.

So, yes, the plot of the film is very thin. We have actors cast in roles that are so shallow they could have been filled by anyone. We have an American actor portraying an Indian character that is so stereotypical that you can't help but laugh. But it all works. The film has a sweetness and a charm that just wins you over. It's a lightweight story and at the center of it all is Johnny 5. As the most fleshed out character in the film, Johnny is innocent and funny and holds all of this silliness together. There is a scene where the bad guys are violently attacking Johnny as he screams in pain and terror. This is the most gut-wrenching scene in the movie but it wouldn't have worked if Johnny hadn't been given so much depth. Credit goes to the screenwriters Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson and director Kenneth Johnson for providing the material that helped create this most engaging robot and to Tim Blaney for providing excellent voice work.

Short Circuit 2 is silly throughout and runs a little too long for a movie of this genre. There was certainly some filler that could have been removed to quicken the pace. You're not going to remember much of the film after it's over, but the movie entertains for the most part. If you don't at least chuckle to yourself while watching Johnny 5 chase down a bad guy in a speedboat while Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero" plays in the background, you're watching movies wrong.

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