Number Five Is Alive: On Short Circuit, Screening Tonight

12/05/2011 12:55 PM |


Steve Guttenberg will be at 92YTribeca Tonight! Following a screening of Short Circuit, discussed below, the 80s comic leading man will sit for a Q&A moderated by the critic Matt Singer. He’ll then stick around to introduce Police Academy.

In their mad attempt to make their kiddy robot flick appeal to as wide an audience as possible, the creators of Short Circuit took several bad ideas and combined them to form a schizoid/all-purpose mess. There are so many clichés crammed into one place that eventually, your eyes glaze over and you start to feel wonderment at the way they haphazardly threw together a bunch of totally generic plot points and pureed them well beyond coherence.

Short Circuit is the Voltron of 80s-movie clichés. This film’s got everything: a meet cute between Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy after a sentient robot invades Sheedy’s apartment and falls in love with her; a plot hatched by the evil military-industrial complex; and a kid-friendly monster that comes to terms with its own mortality (“Number Five is alive!”). It’s E.T. meets Starman, but with a robot and Steve Guttenberg as a boyish scientist. And if you’re not sold yet, how ’bout those war machines that serve cocktails? One of them gets hit by lightning! And ooh, there’s Fisher Stevens in brownface and huh, how did they ever think Ally Sheedy was marketably cute and why is her apartment overrun by skunks and kittens?

There are so many competing plot, thematic and tonal strands mish-moshed together in Short Circuit that viewers can basically choose their own adventures and invent coherent narratives as they watch. I like to imagine the film is a failed sex comedy. It’s right there, I swear: there’s inappropriate robot-related innuendo (“No, he’s not that kind of a robot!”) and an intimate dance scene. The filmmakers inadvertently confirm that this dance is in fact a PG version of a sex scene by having the robot prepare breakfast for Ally Sheedy the next morning (“Oh, #5, you’re making me breakfast!”). Meanwhile, Fisher Stevens makes really bad jokes about how much everyone, himself included, wants to have sex with Ally Sheedy (“Oh, I am sporting a tremendous woody right now!” And: “I am thinking she’s a virgin. Or at least, she used to be.”). Short Circuit practically defines so bad it’s good.