One surprising aspect of 'Short Circuit 2,' the follow-up to 1986's sci-fi comedy with Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy, is that it's actually every bit as good as its predecessor, if not better. Writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson, the same two who originated the first story, have improved upon their imaginative idea of a sentient robot that suddenly becomes self-aware. They take Johnny Number 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney, who later lent his talents to the 'Men in Black' movies as Frank the Pug) out of the country, away from military conspiracies, and set the lovable character loose in the dangerous jungles of New York City.
The first movie left audiences with a machine that seemed full of personality and charisma, so in the sequel, there's little effort put forth in reestablishing that. Arriving at an old warehouse, Johnny bursts out a large crate with the same animated disposition which made him memorable and fun. He was sent there to help his friend Ben (Fisher Stevens, 'Hackers') and his slick business partner Fred (the always entertaining Michael McKean, 'This Is Spinal Tap') build 1,000 toys for Sandy (Cynthia Gibb), an assistant buyer for a department store. But the writers and director Kenneth Johnson use this as pure, throwaway backstory for something grander and even smarter in this family-friendly feature.
Johnny's child-like curiosity for learning and exploring the world gets him into a bit of trouble with the wrong kinds of people. New York City, as it turns out, offers the affable robot the opportunity to learn that people are a complex group of self-aware beings heavily swayed by greed. His trust in humans and his certainty of being alive comes into question when he meets a local gang with their own theme song and befriends Oscar (Jack Weston). A couple of bank robbers (David Hemblem and Dee McCafferty) are, of course, more upfront about their intentions, but con artists like Fred confuse poor Johnny because they're friendly.
Probably the most surprising aspect of 'Short Circuit 2' is the amount of emotion and heart pouring out of the narrative. We spend a good deal of time with the gullible machine, learning that he is passionate about life and making his friends happy. After a while, we forget he's only a mechanical contraption imitating human behavior and believe he is real. So when we see him horribly beaten and on the verge of dying (a harsh scene that may or may not be appropriate for younger viewers), we actually feel terrible for him. His desire and will to live really pulls at the heartstrings, a highly touching sequence that almost makes this sequel better than the original.
'Short Circuit 2' doesn't delve too far into issues about existence and what exactly defines humanity. It's understandably light-hearted and upbeat for general movie consumption, but the comedy isn't shy about at least raising the question — just enough to make for an engaging story and build a bit of drama. Part of the film's enjoyment today comes from the way the story treats its subject matter in such a quaint and dated manner. To think that 500MB of memory is plenty to accidentally create artificial intelligence is not only far-fetched, it's an absurd notion. Still, such minor details become trivial when getting to know Johnny Number 5, and we simply enjoy his charismatic personality.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Short Circuit 2' comes to Blu-ray owners via Image Entertainment. The Region A locked, BD25 disc comes inside a blue eco-vortex case. Once in the player, viewers are taken immediately to the main menu with music and full-motion clips.
Johnny Number Five rides unto Blu-ray with a very good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) that easily trumps its predecessor from 2008.
Primaries are bold and colorful while secondary hues are naturally and consistently rendered. Facial complexions appear healthy, revealing pores and other minor blemishes in medium shots and close-ups. The fine lines of hair and clothing are very well-defined, and Johnny's small, intricate details and the New York architecture are clearly visible and distinct. Contrast is spot-on with crisp, clean whites. Black levels are accurate and often richly deep without ruining sequences with very poor light conditions.
Aside from a few soft scenes, which are understandable from a nearly 25-year old movie and related to some optical effects, 'Short Circuit 2' looks surprisingly great in HD.
The comedy sequel also arrives with a notable uncompressed PCM stereo soundtrack that does the movie justice.
The dialogue-driven design displays a fine stage presence with perfectly centered and clearly audible conversations — you can really appreciate all the nuances in Fisher Stevens' accent — and tons of activity in the background. The bustling city backdrop offers much action and commotion as cars and people move across the front soundstage fluidly. Towards the end, a helicopter fly-by is very impressive as it travels off-screen convincingly. The musical score enhances the soundfield with a wide imaging and terrific acoustics. Dynamic range is surprisingly expansive with wonderful clarity detail, and low-frequency effects are startlingly punchy and effective.
This 1988 family-friendly flick is a good deal of fun on high-rez audio.
'Short Circuit 2' makes its foray onto the high-def format as a bare-bones release, which is somewhat unexpected and disappointing.
'Short Circuit 2' is one of those rare sequels which barely surpasses its predecessor, a movie about a lovable, sentient robot with a big heart and personality to match. Running wild in the streets of New York, Johnny Number 5 entertains with laughs as well as some surprisingly touching drama. The Blu-ray arrives with a great picture quality and an excellent audio presentation. Sadly, the package comes with a disappointingly short supply of supplemental features, making this a mild recommendation for fans but best as good rental.