The S.A.I.N.T. defence system may be in protoype mode, but this demonstration has been quite the success at this weapons manufacturers' laboratory in front of a crowd of dignitaries. It comprises of five robots, each armed with a laser cannon and a missile system, which can operate just as well as any soldier in the field, as illustrated by their skill with destroying the hardware assembled for them to blow up. But their inventor, reclusive genius Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg), is reluctant to get involved with selling his product, preferring to keep his distance - until a miracle occurs.
That miracle being the fifth robot getting struck by lightning, which doesn't fry its circuits but rather in an only in the movies development sparks it into actual life. Thus an in-depth discussion about the very nature of what makes something alive is conducted for the next ninety minutes - ah, no, only joking because what you actually got resembled a movie version of one of those Saturday morning cartoons, with Number 5, the machine in question, quickly becoming like one of those characters like Snarf off of Thundercats, ostensibly cute comic relief with a squeaky voice, and mainly intended to entertain small children.
On this adventure, any of the deeper questions which may have arisen were reduced to a ditzy, hippy-dippy make peace not war message, not quite fitting with the Reaganite eighties, which was possibly what made it a hit thanks to its unfashionable appeal to the audiences better, if uncritical, nature. Although Number 5 would appear to be the ideal sidekick in such stories, the actual sidekick was Ben, played by (white) Fisher Stevens as if the whole of the passage of time between Peter Sellers in The Party and 1986 when this was released had never happened. That's right, a comedy Indian, complete with him messing up his English phrasings and presented with no apparent irony whatsoever. There was no malice in it, but it was pretty strange.
Our female lead was Stephanie Speck, essayed by Ally Sheedy as the encapsulation of all those hippy values which the film wanted us to take on board, who meets the robot as he escapes from the lab, and once settled in her home reads her encyclopaedias and watches a load of television so he can laugh like Curly from The Three Stooges. Meanwhile Number 5's masters are going crazy trying to track him down thinking he will go haywire and start blowing things up if he's malfunctioning somewhere - ah, but life is not a malfunction, as Stephanie mawkishly coins the phrase which the filmmakers wished us to take away from all this silliness, so you couldn't say they didn't have faith in their convictions even as they began to grate on the nerves with its overemphasis.
One thing Short Circuit did get right was that references to pop culture would shape the humour of generations to come, though here this amounted to the aforementioned Stooges and some product placement as the robot recites television ads. Originally this was supposed to be a serious-minded science fiction thriller which did indeed tackle those issues arising from the lifeforce of the mechanical protagonist, which would have either been a Terminator knock-off or something more Blade Runner-y, so its refitting as a family friendly (apart from the swearing and sexual references) summer flick might have left its original target audience shortchanged, never mind shortcircuited. E.T The Extraterrestrial was the film most associated with this in the minds of those who saw it, and Number 5 does have that look about him (he also looks like WALL*E would look twenty years later), but you'd have to be terminally softhearted to be moved by this fluff. Music by David Shire.