Benjamin Jahrvi (Fisher Stevens) is peddling sophisticated toy robots that he makes by hand on the street corners of New York City. One robot wanders away from his stand and makes its way into the office of Sandy Banatoni (Cynthia Gibb), a scout for a major toy company. Sandy tracks Ben down and orders 1,000 of his toys. Overhearing this offer is con artist Fred Ritter (Michael McKean), who smooth-talks his way into becoming Ben's business partner in the deal and acquires the funding Ben needs from a loan shark.
Ben and Fred move into a derelict warehouse which is the base of operations for thieves who are tunneling into a bank vault across the street to steal a set of jewels known as the Vanderveer Collection. The thieves attack Ben and Fred and destroy their equipment, preventing them from completing Sandy's order. However, Ben's friends Stephanie and Newton have sent Johnny 5, a human-sized sentient robot whom Ben helped to create. When the thieves return, Johnny defends against them, then sets up self-defense mechanisms should they try to break in. Johnny sets to work mass-producing the toys to meet Sandy's deadline but later leaves to explore the city. He runs afoul of many New Yorkers, who are rude and unfriendly. However, he befriends one man, Oscar Baldwin (Jack Weston), who works at the bank across the street from Ben and Fred's warehouse.
Fred, having learned that Johnny is worth $11 million, tries to sell the robot. Discovering this, Johnny escapes into the city, is taken into custody by the police, and is placed in the stolen goods warehouse, where he is claimed by Ben. Johnny uses his robotic abilities to help Ben court Sandy.
With time running out before the Vanderveer Collection is moved from the bank, the thieves lock Ben and Fred in the freezer of a Chinese restaurant. It is revealed that Oscar is the mastermind of the heist, and he tricks Johnny into finishing the tunnel leading to the vault. Ben and Fred get Sandy to save them, using polyphonic renditions of songs that Ben learned on his date with her as clues to their location. Having discovered the Vanderveer Collection, Johnny deduces Oscar's true intentions but is attacked by the thieves and is severely damaged. Fred attempts to repair him by breaking into a Radio Shack and following Johnny's guidance. Johnny then locates Oscar and traps his accomplices. However, Oscar flees and steals a boat. Johnny uses a dockside crane to capture Oscar, who is later apprehended by the police. After Johnny's main power supply runs dry, Ben keeps him alive with a defibrillator.
Later scenes show Johnny as a celebrity and Sandy, Ben, and Fred establishing a large business called Input Incorporated, with Johnny 5 as the mascot. The film concludes with Ben and Johnny becoming US citizens. Asked about how he feels by reporters, Johnny, now painted gold, jumps into the air, shouting that he feels, "Alive!"Tim Blaney as the voice of Johnny 5
Fisher Stevens as Benjamin Jahveri
Michael McKean as Fred Ritter
Cynthia Gibb as Sandy Banatoni
Jack Weston as Oscar Baldwin
David Hemblen as Jones
Don Lake as Manic Mike
Ally Sheedy, who played Stephanie Speck in Short Circuit, lends her voice to one scene (uncredited).
The film received mostly mixed reviews at the time of release. It is rated 38% on Rotten Tomatoes. Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave it a negative review. He wrote "For anyone over the age of 6, the film is as much fun as wearing wet sneakers." Rita Kempley of The Washington Post gave a mixed to positive review (6/10) with qualifiers saying "Short Circuit 2" is unabashedly mawkish and sophomoric, and the actors support the technology. But if you're a kid, or an adult with an Erector Set, you might just enjoy this summer-weight caper. Most of the positive reviews in fact were nice but accepting of the film's obvious flaws. Variety added "Mild and meek, Short Circuit 2 has an uncomplicated sweetness as a successful followup to the original robot kiddie comedy." Siskel & Ebert, having disliked the first film, gave the film "two thumbs up" and called the film "even better than the original." In a 1988 Los Angeles Times article, the review noted that "Wilson and Maddock have improved considerably here....Their construction is more deft, their dialogue is better, and they make Johnny 5 come more alive..."
At the box office, Short Circuit 2 disappointed, landing in 7th place on its first weekend making only $3,843,067. It went on to finish with $21,630,088. That was down almost half of what the first Short Circuit made. It ranked 45th at the U.S. Box office for 1988.Honored with the Winsor McCay Award [for career achievement]
Short Circuit 2 was re-released on DVD on April 24, 2007, which included a "making-of featurette" on actor Fisher Stevens. In 2010, the film was released once again with alternative cover-art. A Blu-ray disc of the film was also released in April 2011, though no extras were included.
Hot Cars, Cold Facts, made in 1990, is a short educational film featuring the Johnny 5 character, voiced by Russell Turner. It also starred Gina Revarra as Lisa, John Hugh as Officer Dave and Donald Bishop as Howard. The film takes place after Short Circuit 2.