"SHORT CIRCUIT" is a cockles-of-your-heart-warming comedy with Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy as a cuddlesome twosome united by the robot answer to E.T. And what a lovable bucket of bolts he is, too.
Not since R2D2 has a mechanical matinee idol been so positively huggable. And not since "The Love Bug" has a movie been so determinedly Disney. Not even Disney is so Disney anymore. But if you're young at heart, underage or, like myself, sued for custody of your rubber ducky, "Short Circuit" may please.
But it will seem as if you've seen it all before. And you have. "Short Circuit," written by students in a UCLA extension school screenwriting class, is derivative of every fantasy favorite from "Oz" to "Splash." It's pop culture cannibalism. But what did they care -- it was only homework, not a major motion picture.
Besides, all the wunderkinder do it. Director John Badham, taking his cue from Steven Spielberg, even steals from himself, with homage to his earlier movies. The robot hero learns to dance by watching Badham's "Saturday Night Fever." And the high-tech, anti-war plot mimics his "Wargames."
Number Five, a killer war-bot, is transformed into a living, peaceful being during an electrical storm. He learns to talk the same way Daryl Hannah's mermaid did -- by watching television. The "Three Stooges," film noir and John Wayne movies are among Five's favorites. And the alien's aping of all of same makes for certain hilarity.
After his accident, Number Five runs away from the Nova Robotics lab and seeks refuge with a local airhead played by Ally Sheedy, a fairytale earthmother from Oregon. She takes in all sorts of stray animals, the fuzzier the better, and drives an ice cream truck. Mistaking Five for an extraterrestrial, she adopts the orphaned robot, protecting him from the Nova lab's paramilitary troops, with an assist from Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens as computer nerds.
Guttenberg and Sheedy are as dopey as stunned gophers in their golly-whiz parts and easily upstaged by the hardware. Number Five has the wisdom of Yoda in his reflex iris eyes, the timing of C3PO and the sweet artlessness of R2D2. He loves to play with grasshoppers and butterflies. And he has all the best lines: "Hey, laser lips," he taunts the pursuing Number One, "Your mother was a snowblower."
Costar Stevens, as Ben Jabituya (Jab It to You) -- you get the level we're talking here -- is broadly comic as a Gandhi-type computer genius who talks in malapropisms that tickle the sophomore in all of us -- "With excitement like this, who needs enemas." So, it's low comedy. So?
"Short Circuit" fizzles a little at the end when the script becomes even more predictable and mawkish. But Badham's technological know-how can't be denied, and the pleasures of Number Five are considerable.
SHORT CIRCUIT (PG) -- At area theaters.