PG, 1 hr. 38 min. Directed by: John Badham. Release Date: May 9, 1986. DVD Release Date: September 19, 2000.
Today was a bit of a cluster as you’ve probably guessed if you pay attention to my scheduling and realized today’s movie was originally intended to be a new release. I was supposed to be spending time in my local theater watching Limitless… so imagine my surprise when Bradley Cooper’s latest piece of fluff didn’t quite make the lofty standards set by the five-screen giant in Celina. So… I came up with a Plan B. I went online to determine what I was going to see today and I ran across a mention of a Dimension Films remake of one of my childhood favorites that is supposed to be due in theaters in 2011, and if you were wondering, I am referring to Short Circuit. The stars aligned and this bad boy was available for streaming. Unfortunately, I keep meaning to get a copy of this for myself, but I never seem to be willing to spend those $5 when I see it on the shelf at Best Buy, Walmart, or Target. One of these days I’ll own this, but probably not for awhile.
One of my favorite things about Short Circuit is that it doesn’t suffer from problems that seem to abound in sci-fi: the tech in the film hasn’t become outdated and it’s not set in the near-future. I always wig out a bit when I’m watching science fiction that takes place in like 1999, or 2010 and I’m like, “well, I’m real glad we managed to avoid that nuclear winter.” Robotics is still relatively cutting edge, although I think it’s lost some of its appeal outside of East Asia. The holographic semi-3D map we see periodically in the Nova headquarters has a big brother that lives on Pandora (and I have yet to actually SEE a master status map like this, although it would certainly help military leaders get a better visual feel for mass troop movements or vehicular strikes). And the lasers, you ask? I saw an article in The Navy Times that detailed a in-progress design for a new destroyer-class ship that would have a forward-mounted, crazily-rotatable freaking laser gun. No foolin’. Good sci-fi inspires technological innovation, not the other way around, and Short Circuit was good sci-fi.
It’s been 25 years since I first saw this movie and it still manages to make me laugh. Not SMILE, but actually laugh. It’s not unheard of for me to hurl friendly insults used by Johnny 5 in his voyage of self-discovery and self awareness. If I haven’t shouted “your momma was a snowblower!” at you at some point, it’s just a matter of time. The characters are, with few exceptions, hysterical, and gave me hope for the careers of a few 80s stars that dragged along (and mostly ended with the advent of 1990). The movie is also… charming, although the dialogue is edged enough to keep this from being some sort of cutesy vomit-fest. There’s some swearing and a bit of violence, but the whole time it’s done comically, with the slightest feeling of apology. This is a great family movie if your kids are older… say double-digits and up, although there’s nothing in here other than the language and a couple sporadic bouts of gunfire that might prevent younger kids from liking this as well. I’m pretty sure I saw this in theaters, and I would have been nine at the time. It’s pretty hard to find fault with a feel good movie where there isn’t a real bad guy, just guys who don’t understand what the problem actually means.
The cast was potentially a problem for me. Other than Three Men and a Baby, I’ve never liked Steve Guttenberg in anything, and I wasn’t disappointed when he faded into the glow that surrounds Hollywood like a phantom from a nightmare. Ally Sheedy was a hit or miss. Of course I loved The Breakfast Club and I didn’t think Maid to Order totally sucked, but she has a lot of bad movies under her belt. There were also enough examples of people rehashing the same role from other movies (I’m mostly talking about G.W. Bailey, but there were a couple other folks in that position) and one character that such a parody of stereotypes that, while I think it’s funny, it’s a bit insulting, too. It should be mentioned that Steven Fischer’s portrayal of the Indian scientist has become archetypal. I’ve never met someone from south Asia with that exact cadence or speech pattern, but I hear those patterns frequently in other Indian characters in films and television and I haven’t heard that accent being used anywhere prior in American cinema… so I’m giving him credit for that.
Considering the good music that the 80s cranked out, the person responsible for putting together the soundtrack for this movie should have been executed. Seriously lame.