Short Circuit (1986)

Film and Plot Synopsis

Number 5 of a group of experimental robots in a lab is electrocuted, suddenly becomes intelligent, and escapes.

‘Short Circuit’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
Nova Robotics in Damon, Washington, developed a new line of laser weapon-equipped robots called Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transport (SAINT), featuring tank-like tracks for movement. Each robot, which costs $11 million to build, possesses the capability of being parachuted into enemy territory and positioning a nuclear bomb.

SAINT inventor Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenburg) intended the robots for non-military purposes, but the military establishment perceives them as the “ultimate soldier” that unquestioningly follows orders.

Following an impressive demonstration for military and government officials, a bolt of lightning strikes the generator while robot Number Five is recharging. Though Five appears fine initially, it quickly starts malfunctioning, bumping into walls. By accident, Five ends up on a garbage truck leaving the Nova Laboratories compound but falls off shortly after, landing in a pasture.

Once Nova officials realize Five’s disappearance, Newton Crosby contacts the robot, and in response, Five signals, “Malfunction. Need input.” Using a tracking device, Nova officials locate Five’s whereabouts and deploy a team to retrieve it. They express concern because Five’s laser weapons remain operational. Nova head, Howard Marner (Austin Pendleton), pleads with them not to destroy Five, but Nova’s security chief, Chick Skroeder (G.W. Bailey), orders his men to use any necessary means to disable it. Newton and his assistant, Ben Jabituya (Fisher Stevens), also join the search for the robot.

Five wanders aimlessly, seeking “input.” A security tank catches up with Five as it crosses a bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon. The tank rams Five, pushing it off the bridge. However, Five activates its parachute and, unbeknownst to the driver, lands on top of a “Snack Shack” natural foods truck, driven by Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy).

At home, Stephanie prepares dinner but notices strange lights coming from inside the truck. Investigating further, she discovers Number Five and assumes it’s an alien from outer space. Welcoming the presumed extraterrestrial, Stephanie is surprised when Five audibly responds, “Malfunction. Need input.” Despite the robot’s lack of understanding when she invites it inside, Five comprehends the command “forward” and follows her into the house. Delighted to receive “input,” Five eagerly reads through all of Stephanie’s books.

The next morning, Five surprises Stephanie by imitating commercials and voices it heard on television. However, during an accidental fall off the rear deck of Stephanie’s house, she notices the Nova Laboratories nameplate on Five’s underside and realizes it’s actually a robot, not an alien. Stephanie contacts Nova, informing them that she has one of their missing robots and inquires about a reward. Nova officials assure her they’ll come over but advise her to stay away from Five, as it is malfunctioning.

Concerned for Five’s well-being, Stephanie explains to the robot that help is on the way and that it needs a “tune-up.” Five recites the definition of “tune-up,” which includes the synonym “disassemble.” The robot’s encounter with a grasshopper takes an unfortunate turn when Five accidentally squashes it, leading Stephanie to explain the concept of death to the robot.

Distressed at the idea that death can also mean “disassemble,” Five panics and climbs into Stephanie’s food truck. Quickly reading the instruction manual, the robot drives away with Stephanie jumping onto the truck to join it. Despite Five’s erratic driving, Stephanie manages to convince the robot to stop just before it reaches the river. When she asks why Five acted that way, the robot explains that it fears being disassembled by Nova.

When Newton Crosby arrives on the scene, Five communicates that it is alive and desires to survive. In response, the security team opens fire on the robot. Five retaliates with laser beams, causing destruction in the marina. Newton intervenes, persuading the security team to cease shooting, and successfully powers down the robot. As they prepare to take Five away, Newton instructs his assistant, Ben, to accompany them and ensure the robot’s memory remains intact. However, once in the van, Five reactivates itself, replacing its damaged arm. Witnessing Five’s revival, Ben and the driver panic and flee, leaving Five to drive away, cleverly removing the tracking device attached to it.

That night, while Stephanie is taking a bath, Five makes its way back to her house, adamantly claiming its sentience. Stephanie agrees to let the robot stay for the night, and they later engage in a dance together, with Five imitating the moves it observed from the movie Saturday Night Fever. The following morning, Stephanie’s ex-boyfriend, Frank (Brian McNamara), shows up to claim the $25,000 reward for the robot’s recovery. However, Five responds by disassembling Frank’s Trans Am sports car. When Frank fires his shotgun at Five, the robot skillfully deflects the bullets and retaliates by firing its lasers, scaring Frank away.

While Newton Crosby continues his search for Five, he receives a radio message from Nova chief Howard Marner, informing him that Stephanie wants to meet. Newton meets Stephanie at the Black Cat Inn, where she passionately tries to convince him that Five is indeed alive. Newton, skeptical, acknowledges that the robot may seem lifelike but reiterates that it is merely malfunctioning. During their conversation, Stephanie becomes aware of Nova operatives lurking in the restaurant, poised to capture Five.

Meanwhile, Five remains hidden in the nearby woods, outmaneuvering the other SAINT robots attempting to capture it. The clever robot reprograms its counterparts, causing them to act like the comedic trio, The Three Stooges. Afterward, Five heads to the Black Cat Inn to rescue Stephanie from the clutches of the Nova security team. They make their escape together, pursued by the security team. Managing to elude their pursuers, they circle back to the Black Cat Inn, where Five takes Newton Crosby captive. Insisting on its aliveness, Five adamantly refuses to allow Newton to reprogram it or examine its wiring. The robot asserts that it is morally wrong to kill or disassemble it. Newton, determined to understand the truth, subjects Five to various tests, including a Rorschach test. As Five responds with human-like emotions, Newton begins to reconsider. Finally, when Newton tells a joke, Five responds with laughter, providing the definitive proof of its consciousness. Newton is finally convinced that the robot is truly alive.

Nova security personnel, accompanied by the Army, arrive at the scene, demanding the surrender of the robot. They manage to capture Newton and Stephanie, but unbeknownst to them, Five hides inside the van. Swiftly reacting, Five dashes out the back of the van and races across the desert to escape. The Army opens fire on the robot, and a helicopter fires a bazooka, resulting in its apparent destruction. Heartbroken by what appears to be the loss of their companion, Stephanie collapses in distress, and Newton does his best to console her. Howard Marner is deeply affected by the loss of the valuable robot and reacts by firing both Newton Crosby and the security chief, Skroeder.

As Stephanie and Newton depart the scene in their vehicle, they are astonished when Five emerges from beneath the flooring in the back, explaining that it ingeniously assembled a duplicate robot using spare parts. In the wake of the recent events, Newton suggests they find refuge on the 40 acres of land he owns in Montana. Eager to embrace its new identity, Five takes the steering wheel and announces its desire for a new name, playfully suggesting “Johnny Five” as a suitable choice.

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Tri-Star Pictures released Short Circuit on May 9, 1986. John Badham directed the film starring Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, and Fisher Stevens.

User Rating: 2.95 ( 1 votes)
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