Bicentennial Man
Rating -

Drama/Comedy (US); 1999; Rated PG; 132 Minutes

Robin Williams: Andrew
Sam Neill: Richard "Sir" Martin
Wendy Crewson: Ma'am
Embeth Davidtz: Little Miss/Portia
Oliver Platt: Rupert Burns
Hallie Kate Eisenberg: Little Miss, 7 years old
Stephen Root: Dennis Mansky

Produced by Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Paula DuPré Pesman, Gail Katz, Dan Kolsrud, Laurence Mark, Neal Miller, Wolfgang Petersen and Mark Radcliffe; Directed by Chris Columbus; Screenwritten by Nicholas Kazan; based on the story "The Bicenennial Man" by Isaac Asimov

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Generally speaking, the movie career of Robin Williams can be arranged into three principal categories. The first is comedy, and it plays out as his most successful forte; impressions, in-jokes and character roles are part of this delightful passion, and has helped given us such memorable pictures as "Aladdin," "Good Morning Vietnam" and "The Fisher King." The second category is drama, and, although not as prominent as humor, is responsible for some equally-effective pictures, among them "Awakenings," "Good Will Hunting" and "What Dreams May Come." That third category, however, is a discrediting influence on the first two: trashy maudlin melodrama. Mr. Williams has a tendency to combine both his wit and dramatic success in the same performances, but he generates little ambition, and allows the script to manipulate him just as much as it manipulates the audience. Such results have proven destructive, as seen in the painful works of "Dead Poets Society," "Patch Adams," and most recently, "Jakob The Liar."

"Bicentennial Man" falls into that ever-pathetic third category, because it is neither heart wrenching, moving, or lovable, despite what many a moviegoer may think; instead of realistic emotion, or even creditable direction, the movie sweeps up hordes sentimental dirt and presents it in the form of a machine who may, or may not, actually be human on the inside. And because of the decrepit treatment director Chris Columbus and his stars provide, this is movie is far from being even mildly bad, as most melodramas tend to be. "Bicentennial Man" is nothing but a sappy, shameless, and morbid production that wastes talent and time in a script designed to line the bottom of a bird cage.

The story tosses out sour grapes at an ineffable rate. In the near future, the NDR-114 android has become one of the most popular utilities of its time (sort of like a grown-up version of the Pokémon craze). As the craze expands to virtually every household in the suburbs, the story begins focusing in on one particular appliance named Andrew (so named by a little girl who could not pronounce "android"), who has just been delivered to the door of Richard Martin (Sam Neill). Andrew is, predictably, not your average android; his home consists of four individuals, some of whom feel uncomfortable with his presence, others who adore his schmaltzy attitude (as if androids could ever feel emotion). Of course, none of the sentiment starts kicking in until later, when each family member has expressed their most hated (or loved) feelings towards the robot. Sam Neil, whom Andrew calls "Sir," defends the robot to his concerned family, and soon after, we get a machine who can tell jokes, laugh, care, and become concerned about the family he has been sold to.

As a machine, Mr. Williams provides us with the most lackluster performance of his career--his shifts between drama and comedy wear thin and are obvious, and the cheap sentiment provoked by the shenanigans of the plot doesn't help much, either. Much more disruptive than his performance, however, is the director's ghastly treatment, which shifts tones faster than a bullet, and takes too much time in deciding which of these tones is more effective. The tagline, which states that it takes 200 years for a robot to become an ordinary man, is much-deserved; we feel like we've aged two centuries just watching it.

Like a deck of cards, director Chris Columbus enjoys playing with his hand full of emotional experiences intended to stimulate a viewer's soft side. This time, it appears he has been playing with the wrong deck. He, as most know, directed "Stepmom" last year, and although the movie was not a very effective melodrama, it managed to retain some respectable performances. This movie doesn't even have plausibly bad performances; the actors revert to the type of cheap emotion that made "Patch Adams" so nauseating, and the kind that made "Dead Poets Society" a cringe-fest. And like those films, the only way one will feel warm and fuzzy at "Bicentennial Man" is if they wear a sweater.

© 1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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