Short Circuit [1986]

John Badham's family-oriented adventure comedy, though obviously hatched in the wake of E.T. and Star Wars, manages to create its own identity through a sweet tone and an affectionate sense of fun. Military robot Number 5, a well-armed killing machine, is zapped by lightning during a test and emerges with a consciousness, curiosity, a wacky sense of humor, and a new peace-loving philosophy. Ally Sheedy (who debuted in Badham's hit WarGames) is the animal lover whose home is sanctuary for a zoo-full of strays and who adopts the adolescent robot. Steve Guttenberg is the goofy but reclusive robotics designer who goes off in search of his creation to save him from the gun-happy army. The mix of gentle slapstick and innocent romance makes for a harmless family comedy. It veers toward the terminally cute, what with 5's hyperactive antics and E.T.-ish voice, and the mangled grammar of Guttenberg's East Indian sidekick (Fisher Stevens) threatens to become offensive, but Badham's breezy direction keeps the film on track. Sheedy and Guttenberg deliver spirited and engaging performances, but most importantly the robot emerges as a real person. Give credit to designer Syd Mead, an army of puppeteers and robotics operators, and the cartoony voice of Tim Blaney: Number 5 is alive. --Sean Axmaker

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