Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Wherefore art thou (and thine career), Kenneth Johnson?
In our very first Reel Toronto column, we established a core principle: Toronto’s Hollywood success can be directly traced to the career of Steve Guttenberg. If there is a movie that proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is Short Circuit 2 (despite Guttenberg’s absence).
The first Short Circuit was one of those fun 80s films you might remember from your youth. A military robot (Number 5, a.k.a. Johnny 5) gets struck by lightning and becomes self aware. When the time came for the sequel, the two “stars” (Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg!) wisely decided to bail. Somehow, they actually got Sheedy to record a short voice-over for the sequel, but Megastar Guttenberg must have had a tighter contract.
Everything cute about the first film is pretty cloying and ridiculous in the sequel, and it also commits the most horrendous of crimes: claiming Toronto is New York City while making no effort whatsoever—not even a helicopter shot of the Empire State Building—to convince you of the fact.
Screw progress. Seedy Yonge Street lives forever on celluloid.
After the credit sequence at an airport, the film cuts to what is unmistakably the southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas. It is a long scene that really gives you time to soak in the pre-reno Eaton Centre and the pre-Dundas Square/Metropolis look of the intersection.
Before the guys playing bucket drums, there were weirdos selling robots on the sidewalk.
If it’s supposed to be Times Square, it fails utterly. But it is great to see a slice of our history so well-preserved. You’ll probably miss all the dialogue squinting to spot the original Hard Rock Cafe sign and other memories of the seediness that once was.
Did you know this guy dated Michelle Pfeiffer, like, forever?
The film contains several odd Canadianisms. For example, there’s the character who says, “Pass me a Labbatt’s,” as if that’s a typical request south of the 49th. There’s also the fact that the female lead (who wants to buy mini Johnny 5 robots for her store) works at a department store called Simpson’s. They have white bags with green script, red and black trucks, but, oddly, occupy the north end of the Eaton Centre. Hmmm.
The plot basically revolves around Fisher Stevens (the only hold-over from the first film, aside from Johnny) trying to woo Cynthia Gibb (playing “Sandy”) while shifty scammer Michael McKean kinda sorta helps him. There’s more to it, but who cares, really?
Don’t be fooled by the flag! The Yanks think a few Stars ‘n’ Stripes and some USA Today boxes on the the sidewalk will trick us.
The unlikely duo of McKean and Fisher set up shop in a rundown building ostensibly located on Bay Street, right across from the Royal Bank Tower. All in all, the film doesn’t venture tol far geographically, and we get to see all of these downtown locations several times.
Who doesn’t love to just hang out by the Atrium on Bay?
Bay Street gets a lot of face time, with a lengthy later scene (in which Johnny tries to disguise himself as human) taking place at Dundas.
It may or may not be the world’s biggest, but it’s just what Johnny 5 needed.
See, Johnny always wants “input.” No, it’s not what you think, it’s just data. So you can imagine his excitement when he spots the famous New York landmark, “The World’s Biggest Bookstore.” Yup, he crosses Edward Street and runs into the easily-recognizable interior of the store, which was originally opened as a bowling alley, dontcha know.
If you really care about “The World’s Biggest” thing, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Barnes and Noble in New York has more floor space, though our hometown hero claims to carry more titles. Take your pick.
Johnny does Yorkville.
During his explorations, Johnny takes a tour of Bloor Street. Not only does this film give you a chance to relive the glory days on Yonge, you also get a nice glimpse of the Art Deco University Theatre, which has now been incorporated into a Williams Sonoma store. (Shiver.)
Our curious robot then cruises past the Manulife Centre, and gets involved in a game of three-card monte at the corner of Bay and Bloor.
Yonge Street is not actually the most romantic place for a quiet dinner on a sidewalk patio.
In a scene that seems original if you’ve never seen, read or heard of Cyrano de Bergerac, Johnny helps the verbally clumsy Ben with his wooing of Sandy. He uses his remote control thingie to stop her bus (the #27, “Downtown,” from Front to St. Clair), so he catches her when she steps off at Yonge, north of Wellesley. The two decide to dine at a now-defunct cafe, and Johnny then hacks into the pixel board south of Charles Street. He uses it to pass along outtdated dialogue that makes Ben sound like a real dork, until she realizes how sweet he is. Etcetera, etcetera.
I know New York City. I’ve been to New York City. You, sir, are no New York City.
As we start building towards the inevitable action-packed finale, Johnny tumbles out a high window in a bank tower, engages his built-in wings, and goes soaring over Old City Hall.
Amazingly, New York does have a Flatiron Building, but its setting looks nothing like this. Also, ours came first, sucker.
He touches down in Berczy Park, right in front of the Flatiron Building on Front Street.
The model airplane lobby fought hard against the construction of Metro Hall on this site.
A chase through downtown leads us through this parking lot, west of Roy Thomson Hall. It is located where Metro Hall now stands and, rather inexplicably, hobbyists are using it here to fly their model airplanes.
If the lot seems familiar, it’s because we also saw it at the beginning of (ta da!) Police Academy starring (TA DA!) Steve Guttenberg. Remember it, because we’ll be coming back to this scene shortly.
The restaurant is fake, the Chinatown is real.
Our two human heroes find themselves locked in the freezer of a Chinatown restaurant and come up with a unique escape plan. They call Sandy and leave a message on her answering machine composed entirely of musical clues punched in on the touchtone phone. For example, they are trapped in “Doo Wah’s” Chinese restaurant and the final clue is a touchtone version of “Doo Wah Diddy.”
The important thing is that, despite instructions to go down “Broadway,” everyone ends up on Dundas Street.
You can’t comprehend the Tao of Reel Toronto without knowing something about Don Lake.
Eventually, the bad guys capture Johnny 5 and lay a surprisingly hardcore beating upon him. Dude is screaming, “Don’t kill me! Johnny 5 is alive!” and all that. Luckily, as he’s about to expire, Michael McKean drags him into a Radio Shack to fix him up. Now, here’s the good bit: who is the owner of the Radio Shack? Why, it’s character actor Don Lake, who you have seen in a zillion things.
Like what? How about the opening of Police Academy!! See, he’s the irate customer who forces Steve Guttenberg to park his Trans Am in the lot beside Roy Thomson Hall. Yes, the same parking lot with the model airplanes.
And so, dear friends, the circle is complete.
There was a time during the Reagan administration when you could not produce a movie without using a Bonnie Tyler song.
Despite having now achieved 416-Film Greatness par excellence, Short Circuit 2 ain’t done yet. Nope, it has an extensive finale chase along the Toronto harbour, culminating just south of the Island Airport.
Oddly, the chase is set to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero,” which was already used in the best scene of tractor chicken ever committed to film. Which has a stronger cinematic legacy? You be the judge.
The big end action sequence also includes Johnny (now all punked-up) and McKean riding piggyback down University Avenue, with the police headquarters visible behind them.
Any scene with an 80s cell phone is alright by us.
Now we’re finally ready for the finale. It begins with Michael McKean exiting First Canadian Place, chatting on a big, honking cellphone, and getting into a limo. Yup, everyone is now successful and happy.
Freud might have something to say about the overcompensation with phallic symbols here.
We now arrive at the final scene, which is particularly chuckle-worthy for locals. Our hero, Ben, and a fixed-up (and gold-plated!) Johnny 5 are sworn in as American citizens in front of Queen’s Park. The judge makes a great speech about Johnny being the first cyber-citizen or whatever, but you’ll be busy staring at the dozen American flags flapping in the breeze.
University Avenue is obviously on display in the background, and if that’s supposed to convince us this is New York….um, it doesn’t.
We may have set a record for screencaps here because Short Circuit 2 has so much awesomeness, not to mention serving as a nostalgia trip for those who miss maroon TTC busses and shopping at The Jean Machine. Heck, we didn’t even have time to mention the scene where a couple of characters grab lunch at the University Avenue Druxy’s!
Aside from people driving on “Broadway” or “59th Street,” this film is practically as CanCon as they come, and yet—as with Undercover Brother—no Genie Awards. The lesson to be learned is this: when Steve Guttenberg bails on your film, the script might not be ready for prime time. Nonetheless, you can take The Gutt out of Toronto, but you can’t take Toronto out of The Gutt. Or something like that.