Short Circuit

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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"Number Five... is Alive!"

"Life is NOT a malfunction!"
Stephanie Speck

Short Circuit is a pair of films that were written with the intention of deconstructing A.I. Is a Crapshoot. It's a near-unique film that doesn't fall easily into any one genre, instead it takes elements of sci-fi, action, romantic comedy and slapstick.

In the first film (1986) NOVA robotics demonstrates five experimental robots for military use. With mobile tank treads, impressive tactile response, limited AI and a very dangerous laser weapon, they are bleeding edge advanced machines. During a storm, SAINT #5 is struck by lightning, frying its circuits and causing a critical malfunction in its programming. It wanders off unnoticed, headed for the unsuspecting denizens of a small town, in particular one defenseless girl and animal lover named Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy). It is a race against time to recapture the wayward robot before disaster strikes - but it is already too late. Number Five is adapting... learning... and willfully ignoring commands.

Steve Guttenberg plays the designer Newton Crosby who is trying to figure out what happened to this robot. He becomes friendly with Stephanie and comes to see that Number Five has acquired a personality... and a love of The Three Stooges. But NOVA sees Number Five as their property that has gotten away from them, and they want him either returned or destroyed.

The second film (Short Circuit 2, 1988) centers on a friend of Crosby in the first film, Benjamin Jahrvi. Working to make little SAINT-inspired toys, he runs into problems getting production up to speed. So Crosby and Stephanie send Number Five, now calling himself Johnny Five, who is a one robot production line. Unfortunately, Ben's business partner Fred Ritter sees other opportunities. But all this takes a back seat to Johnny being manipulated by thieves to help in a bank heist, which shatters Johnny's naiveté and leaves him wanting revenge.

A remake is being planned, but it is in the very early stages.

Tropes used in Short Circuit include:
  • Adorkable: Just about everyone, admit it. Most notably: Ben, Newton and Johnny.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Inverted. There's nothing wrong with the AI until lightning gets involved.
    • Even then, the AI is incredibly amicable and nonviolent, and takes some serious pushing(a major betrayal and very serious and brutal attempt on its life) just to move it from an Actual Pacifist to a Technical Pacifist.
  • Armies Are Evil: Strictly speaking, the "soldiers" are NOVA's security team and not proper military, but close enough.
  • Badass Unintentional: Johnny Five, in the second movie, since he's a Technical Pacifist.
  • Bank Robbery: Oscar's scheme in the sequel.
  • Become a Real Boy: One of the plot points of the second movie is Johnny Five's quest to be recognized as sentient.He eventually is, and becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen alongside Ben at the end.
  • Berserk Button: Do not mistreat Johnny Five's friends, and do not treat him like a mere machine. He WILL find you, and he WILL deal the most humiliating yet nonviolent punishment imaginable. Stephanie's ex-boyfriend and Oscar both found that out FIRSTHAND.

"You will not get away! I am really pissed off!!"

  • Beware the Nice Ones: Johnny and Ben. You do not want to be around Ben if something's happened to Johnny on your watch. Just see Berserk Button above to see why it's an equally bad idea to take Johnny lightly.
  • Big Stupid Doodoo Head: "I've got an error message for you! I'll scramble your RAM!!" Quoted by Saunders, apparently unsure of how to properly insult a robot. Johnny is understandably less than impressed.
  • Blank Slate: Number 5 is a fast learner though.
  • Blue Eyes: Johnny 5. The innocent variety.
  • Bollywood Nerd: Ben.
  • Break the Cutie: Quite literally, in the second movie.
  • Brick Joke: One of the phrases that Johnny passes to Ben during his date with Sandy is misinterpreted as Spanish, which Sandy translates into "Your mother sleeps (makes love with) with my dog". At the movie's climax, Johnny uses the same phrase to taunt a crook.
  • Bus Full of Innocents: Howard is scared that the malfunctioning Number 5 might attack one.

Howard: What if it decides to melt down a bus full of nuns? How would you write the headline on that?!
Ben: Nun soup?

  • But I Read a Book About It: Newton's response when Ben asks if he's ever seen a woman naked.
    • Standard fare for Johnny-Five. With most of his fairly short life spent interacting with only about a half-dozen humans in any significant way, the majority of his experience and knowledge comes from the piles upon piles of books he's read.
  • California Doubling: The sequel takes place in the USA, but was shot in Toronto. It was rumored that the crew had to go out of their way to add litter to the shots to maintain to the illusion of an American city, but it kept getting cleaned up by City Services when they were on break.
  • Candlelit Bath: Parodied.

Number Five: "Stephanie... change color? Attractive! Nice software!"

  • Changing of the Guard: From Newton Crosby and Stephanie as the main human protagonists to Ben and - eventually - Fred.
  • Characterization Marches On: Ben graduates from a Chivalrous Pervert to a three-dimensional protagonist between films.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Too many to list, most notably Johnny's magnet and remote control.
  • Chrome Champion: Johnny's makeover in the epilogue of Short Circuit 2. He looks like R.O.B. mated with an Academy Award.
  • Confessional: Johnny rolling his way into a church confessional.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: With his voice box damaged, Johnny uses a rock to scrape out an S.O.S. on a brick wall.
  • Cute Machines: Number/Johnny Five is intended as this, of course, but the little Johnny Five toys take the cake.
  • Decoy Getaway: Thanks to Dr. Crosby's NOVA van just happening to have enough spare parts for Number Five to build a decoy, which NOVA blows up at the end of the first film, thinking they destroyed him.
  • Determinator: Johnny 5 takes a lot of abuse in both movies, but always dispenses justice and emerges with a nonsensical catch-phrase and good attitude. He may not be indestructible, but his optimism is.
  • Did Not Do the Research: Johnny finishes The Hound of the Baskervilles in 10 seconds, pausing momentarily to remark, "I think the chauffeur did it!" and "He did." Close, but no bananas: In the novel, the murderer is spotted riding in the cab of a horse-drawn carriage, not the front.
  • Disney Death: Lampshaded, then Averted Trope.
  • Dissimile: Fred explaining that he didn't "lose" Johnny Five. He just "misplaced him, y'know? Like your car keys."
  • Do-Anything Robot: Let's see... Johnny has a parachute, "multi-frequency remote control" that allows him to control anything electric (within range), and a Swiss Army Weapon that extends to cut through solid steel bank vault walls, unlock cars and unscrew their radios, and help build little toy robots.
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Johnny, in the second movie. When he wants to push past someone (usually Fred) he tends to toss him halfway across the room. Not to mention the trouble he gives the two police officers when they arrest him for trashing the bookstore.

Johnny Five: I am NOT stolen goods! -slams fists on the table, yanking the police officers down-


Johnny Five: You will book me, Danno? I will make your day? Do not pass go?

  • Every Helicopter Is a Huey: Although the helicopter that chases down and destroys the decoy Number Five is not a Huey, but a JetRanger, this trope is lampshaded:

Skroeder: "...and I'm going to need some Hueys."
Howard: "Some what?"
Skroeder: "HELICOPTERS, Howard. Jesus Christ!"
Howard: "I thought they were choppers."
Skroeder: "Well, now they're called Hueys."
Howard: "Well, why wasn't I notified?"


...If you prick us, do we not bleed?
Yeah, battery fluid maybe.

  • Frickin' Laser Beams: All the military robots.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Stephanie, and later, Johnny Five.
  • Funny Foreigner: Benjamin Jabituya.
    • In the first movie, he was more of a Plucky Comic Relief character. In the second movie, they gave him the last name Jahrvi and tried to give him a more serious story, while still keeping him funny.
  • Fun with Acronyms: S.A.I.N.T. Touches on nightmare fuel, given the root is Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transport.. The SAINT series are nuke delivery platforms, designed, as explained at the start of the first film, to be para-dropped into enemy cities, use their maneuverability, intelligence, and weaponry to safely deliver their nuclear payload to their target, and then blow themselves up.
  • G-Rated Drug: Apparently, knowledge is this to a newly sentient robot. Played for Laughs, of course.

Number Five: Need! More! Input!


"Los Locos kick your ass!"
"Los Locos kick your face!"
"Los Locos kick your balls into outer SPAAAAAACE!"

  • Geek Physiques: Ben and his bank robber counterpart, Saunders, are both portrayed as weaklings.
  • General Ripper: Schroeder decides, without bothering to listen to the guy who built it, that recovering SAINT Five requires loads and loads of military firepower aimed in the general direction of the robot regardless of the presence of innocent bystanders.
  • Genius Ditz: Newton Crosby and Ben, and later Number Five himself.
  • Granola Girl: Stephanie. Takes in all manner of poor and homeless animals (and one sentient robot), runs a truck that she sells natural food out of, and expresses her deep displeasure with the military and their weapons.
  • Heel Face Turn: Howard Marner is hinted at undergoing one at the conclusion of the first film by firing Schroeder.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Newton and Ben. (Ben lampshades this a couple of times.)
  • Hollywood Nerd: Newton isn't exactly smooth with the ladies.
  • Human Mail: Though not technically a human, Johnny Five mails himself to Benjamin in the city (with the help of Newton and Stephanie), after being rejected as an airplane passenger.
  • Humiliation Conga: How Number Five deals with Frank.
  • Implausible Deniability: The "Department of Car Stereo Repair".
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: On Number Five. At least in this case they weren't expecting the robots to try to get rid of them.
  • Inkblot Test: Administered to Number Five by Crosby as part of a Turing test.
  • Insane Proprietor: Manic Mike.
  • Instant AI, Just Add Water
  • Instant Expert: Number Five assimilates information at an insane speed, going through an entire dictionary within seconds. Notably, this doesn't help him learn morality; he's still got the mentality of a five-year old, just a very smart one.
  • Jerkass: Stephanie's ex boyfriend from the first movie.
  • Johnny McCoolname: Number Five gives himself the name "Johnny Five."
  • Just Think of the Potential: When asked by a Senator about the SAINT project's origins, Crosby lets slip the fact that he intended them as a marital aid. (Then again, he might've been trying to make a fool of Howard.)
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: NOVA's private military.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: "Let's party."
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: A single bolt is all that stands between a sufficiently advanced robot and sentience.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Fred seemingly owns only one -- admittedly expensive -- shirt, which he wears on a daily basis. This makes it all the more poignant when Fred tears his sleeve off without hesitation, applying it to Johnny's leaking battery.
  • Loan Shark: Fred uses one to sponsor his business with Ben, with thirty days to pay up. When the jewel thieves first confront Fred and Ben with ski masks, Fred first thinks it's the loan shark's henchmen.
  • Lock and Load Montage / Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Johnny Five goes through this after being beaten and left for dead by the villains, out of sheer anger that they merely kidnapped his friends, but flat out tried to kill HIM. He even dons a mohawk-like set of spikes for the occasion.

Johnny Five: Oh sure, kidnap the humans, (angrily) destroy the machine!

  • Locked in a Freezer: Ben and Fred in the second movie.
  • Magical Defibrillator: One such is used to recharge Johnny Five's dying battery.
  • Malaproper: Ben, constantly.
  • Miraculous Malfunction: The lightning strike that gives Number Five sentience.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Searching for the dying Johnny, Ben and the cops arrive at Radio Shack at the exact moment that Fred and Johnny exit the frame. This happens twice more during this sequence, though the final time Fred remained behind for Ben and the cops to find instead.
  • Mood Whiplash: Like the first film, Short Circuit 2 is a light comedy. That is, till the scene where Oscar has his goons brutally smash up Johnny 5 in near slow-motion.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: Ben keeps calling Johnny "Number Johnny Five". He doesn't really seem to mind though.
  • No Sympathy: Crosby taking No. 2 (without permission) on his hunt for No. 5, causing Howard to wet his drawers some more.

Howard: Great! So instead of $11 million on the loose, we're going to have twenty-two!
Ben: Plus we are needing gas money.

  • Oblivious to Love: Ben's love interest, the woman representing the toy company he had a deal with, doesn't even notice his (poor) attempts at romancing her until Johnny bungles their date.
  • Odd Couple: Mild-mannered, scrupulous Ben and slovenly, amoral Fred.
  • An Odd Place to Sleep: Ben inherited the NOVA truck from the first movie and drove it to NYC. It doubles as his toy factory and living space.
    • Even after Fred leases a warehouse, Ben continues to nap in a hammock in the truck (which is now parked indoors).
  • Oh Crap:
    • Fred's reaction in the sequel when Johnny realizes he is in a city, and Fred again when Johnny finds a bookstore.
    • Fred and Ben realizing that neither one of them knows Morse code.
    • Oscar's face right before Johnny runs his car off the road, somersaulting it into a parked van.
    • #5's reaction when he makes the connection between a dead grasshopper and NOVA's intent to disassemble him. "Disassemble = DEAD? NOOOOO!"
  • Operation Blank: An army general at NOVA's launch party is already fantasizing about deploying SAINT robots to nuke Moscow. "We call it Operation Gotcha Last."
  • Our Souls Are Different
  • Pick Your Human Half
  • Pig Latin: Used by the sequel's villains to fool Johnny -- the one language he doesn't know how to translate.
    • He's managed to work it out by the second time they try this trick on him.

Johnny 5: Oo-scray oo-yay, ozobay.

  • Pinocchio Syndrome: He even picked a copy of the novel of Pinocchio while at a bookstore, determining that it required a more careful read.
  • Playing Cyrano: Johnny Five to Ben during the latter's date.
  • Porn Stash: Ben's "schematic drawings" that he offers to share with Newton.
  • Product Placement:
    • "Wouldn't You Like To Be a Pepper Too?"
    • Radio Shack doesn't just sell electronics. It SAVES LIVES.
  • Race Against the Clock: Fred, when repairing Johnny in Radio Shack.

Fred: "I can't do this, I'm no good at this stuff!"
Johnny: "Fifteen minutes you have to get good."

  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Probably originally meant for combat mode, Johnny's back-lit red "eyes" are usually a telltale sign you've managed to tick off the normally happy-go-lucky pacifist robot.

Johnny Five: (catches crowbar midswing)Bad humans!

  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Fred and Ben.
  • Reference Overdosed: Johnny doesn't really know when to hold back. Then again, being as young as he is, he doesn't really have his own experiences to know anything beyond references.
  • Ridiculously-Human Robots: Personality-wise, not appearance-wise.
  • Robosexual: Number 5 hitting on Stephanie in the tub.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Johnny outwits his evil twins by deflecting their lasers with rocks and blinding them with mud. $11 million well spent, Pentagon.
  • Run for the Border: Oscar and his cronies devise a clever plot to smuggle the jewels into South America. Each one is hidden inside a cheap, plastic toy dinosaur; "Our gift to the Brazilian National Orphanage."
  • Running Gag: Skroder seems rather obsessed with food...

Skroder: What I've got is trouble, which I don't need because my wife is at home cooking a steak that's going to be dried out by the time I get there
Skroder: They're cooking something up, I can smell it. We've got to fry 'em now, Howard!
Skroder: How many kids you got, Doctor?
Crosby: None.
Skroder: Well let me tell you I've got three of them. Three dandy little Skroders, and I want them to be adults, not barbeques.


Fred: "Come on now, man, these are serious guys! You're not in top form a-and your back-up battery's used up!?"
Johnny: "Derf, a life-form's gotta do what a life-form's gotta do. Stand aside."

  • Super Prototype
  • Super Speed Reading: Johnny can breeze through books at a frightening rate, though apparently he's not programmed to re-shelve them. Set him loose in a bookstore and, well...
  • Symbolic Blood: Battery fluid.
  • Technical Pacifist: Johnny Five was created as a military robot, but decides that killing is wrong. He's not above throwing thugs around, so long as they don't die.
    • I Am Not a Gun: In the second movie, he has his laser weapon removed in favor of a Batman-esque utility pack.
  • They Would Cut You Up: "NO DIS-ASS-EM-BLE!"
  • Tinman Typist: Justified. One of Newton's side projects is teaching robots to play piano. And give the finger.
  • Trampled Underfoot: The opening shot shows a tank running over flowers.
    • Johnny learns about death when he accidentally tramples a grasshopper.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Johnny, in the second movie. Twice. In the beginning he steals just about a dozen car radios after being deceived by a gang to believe that he was helping them do their jobs as the "Department of Car Stereo Repair"; and later when Oscar tricks him into digging into the bank vault, thinking it was to create a safe place for Ben. Don't worry, he fixes it.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: Maybe not violent, but Sandy takes a level in badass when she believes Ben is in trouble, impressively decoding his voiceless-phone messages to use as directions, and demanding that the taxi driver break the law to move faster.

Sandy: "If we get a ticket, I'll pay for it!"

  • Voice Changeling: Johnny, like most self-aware robots from the Eighties, can mimic anyone's voice.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Newton calls out Howard Marner on this, claiming that back when they were both scientists, Howard would have realized the value of Johnny Five's sentience. Howard bluntly replies, "I'm a businessman now. I'm not a scientist anymore."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: It takes a lot of convincing before the human leads will concede that Number Five is alive and not Just a Machine. This is the main moral premise of both films, leading to the end of the second movie in which Johnny is publicly declared a sentient being and made a citizen of the United States.
  • Wild Goose Chase: Number 5 notices his Tracking Device and throws it into the pick up truck of an elderly couple. The soldiers in pursuit of him find the couple instead.
  • You Are Number Five: He starts as just a number, but gives himself the name Johnny Five. Ben calls him "Number Johnny Five".
  • Your Mom: Invoked in the first movie as a taunt to Number Five's pursuers.

Number Five: Hey laser lips! Your momma was a snowblower! *makes a digital Bronx cheer*

    • And in the second: