Bicentennial Man

Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring: Robin Williams, Sam Neill, Embeth Davidtz, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Oliver Platt.
MPAA Rating: PG for language and some sexual content.

Review by Matt Heffernan
December 18, 1999

Just when you though it was safe to go back to the cineplex, yet another sappy Robin Williams movie sneaks its way in. As if Jakob the Liar wasn't bad enough, Williams re-teams with Mrs. Doubtfire director Chris Columbus to pull our heartstrings until we beg for mercy.

In the year 2005, the Martin family buys an android (Robin Williams, encased in latex and plastic) for use as a servant. Their younger daughter (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) mispronounces "android" as "Andrew", and that becomes his name. We don't know any of the Martins' first names, just that Andrew refers to them as Sir (Sam Neill), Ma'am (Wendy Crewson), Miss (Lindze Letherman), and Little Miss. Andrew starts to develop human attributes such as creativity and compassion, and becomes very close to the Martins, especially Little Miss.

Andrew learns that time is more significant for mortal humans than for ageless robots. He sees Little Miss grow up (now played by Embeth Davidtz) and marry, and Sir grow old and die. He then goes on a search to find more of his own kind, and he eventually finds Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt), an engineer who continues to work on androids like Andrew, which are now unfashionable decades later. Rupert fits him with human-looking skin, and Andrew goes back to Little Miss, who is now the grandmother of a grown woman, Portia (also played by Davidtz). Making up for letting Little Miss get away, Andrew pursues the affection of Portia.

Bicentennial Man was based on a short story by Isaac Asimov, which was later made into the novel The Positronic Man by Asimov and Robert Silverberg. The vision of Asimov can be seen in the design of Andrew, which is pretty much the only redeeming aspect of this film. Otherwise, it's the same predictable, maudlin mess that you can expect from Williams these days. It's actually surprising, since Mrs. Doubtfire was really one of his few decent films in the past decade.

What is supposed to be one of the keys to Andrew's acquired humanity is a sense of humor. This is portrayed by him telling jokes and acting goofy while trying to be ironic. In actuality, his antics are incredibly unfunny, and watching the other actors in the film force laughter is just as painful. But Williams doesn't make straight comedies anymore (except maybe for The Birdcage, but you can't really call that "straight"). His mission is to make the most sentimental film possible, to make us laugh and cry at the same time. I'm so thankful, I could just puke.

All I can hope for is that people will not go to this film. If people stop supporting this kind of treacle, it won't get made anymore. Williams will be forced to make genuinely funny or dramatic films, or retire. Now that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

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Bicentennial Man (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan