By Peter Travers
July 11, 1988 12:00 PM

To say that No. 2 improves on its predecessor is faint praise. The first Short Circuit was an ET rip-off about a military robot named Number Five—Johnny to intimates—who re-programmed himself and found peace in the Montana woods with Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy. With the two stars and their conventional love story out of the sequel, screenwriters S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock mine the formula plot for quirkier humor. Nothing, mind you, to menace the tots. Johnny Five has left the woods for a big U.S. city (nobody says which one, perhaps because the film was shot in Toronto). He’s out to help his East Indian co-creator Ben Jahrvi, nicely played by Fisher Stevens, mass produce toy robots for store buyer Cynthia Gibb. But when villains trick Five into using his talents to abet a jewel heist, the robot learns there are—oh, no—bad people in the world. Five eventually gets even with the culprits, niftily snatching one from a speeding boat. “What are you,” asks the creep, “a punishment from God?” Those in search of something fresh may think so. Still, parents may rather be safe than sorry. Alongside the violence in Willow and the kinky cartoon sex in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the derivative SC2 shapes up as the only no-risk family fare around. (PG)