Bicentennial Man (1999)

Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Nicholas Kazan, based on the short story by Isaac Asimov & the novel The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg
Starring Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz, Sam Neill, Oliver Platt, Wendy Crewson

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

A family in the near future has just gotten a new appliance.  But it's not just any appliance—it's Robin Williams in a robot suit.  I'm kidding, it's a robot they name Andrew that's merely played by Williams.  At first, not everybody is pleased.  Sir (Neill) is amused, Ma'am (Crewson) is unamused, Miss (Lindze Letherman) is bored, and the youngest, Little Miss (Hallie Kate Eisenberg as the young version, Davidtz as the older version), is afraid.  But gradually, everyone warms to him, except for Miss—-but she's a throwaway character so no one really cares.  The reason he's so likable is because he's Robin Williams.  No, just kidding again, it's really because he's a unique robot in that he seems to have curiosity, originality, creativity-—all the things the manufacturer would think of as anomalies.  Over the course of two centuries, he strives to find the things any good human would want: freedom, love, understanding, and of course, dignity.

Here's the bottom line, right out of the starting gates: the film is cute, saccarhine, overlong, at times overbearing...but not completely unpleasant.  It's not the profound statement on humanity that it could have been, but hey, it's a Robin Williams movie where Robin isn't trying to pound ideas into our heads (at least not like the completely overdone Patch Adams anyway).  Hell, he played Peter Pan—-who better to also play a Pinocchio that sings "I've Got No Gears (To Hold Me Down)"?  And hey, they picked a decent cast to join Robin.

Robin himself is pretty much Robin tuned down to level seven instead of eleven.  He still gets in a good comedic jab here and there, but he manages to keep himself mostly sedate.  That's work in itself.  Sam Neill is good as the patriarch, and Embeth Davidtz plays her roles well (as she also plays the young Portia, Little Miss' granddaughter).  This is partly due to the old age makeup, which I thought was extremely effective for everyone except Wendy Crewson.  Her old age version of the family's matriarch looked like a guy in drag wearing bad old age makeup.  Sorry Wendy, but it's true.  Also finely cast is Oliver Platt, who is always good at slightly eccentric parts.  Also worth mentioning is Kiersten Warren as the robot Galatea, who makes for some good bits, especially one with an impact drill.

But regardless, the film, though pushing all the obvious buttons marked "tearjerker," does not fall flat on its face.  It wobbles around a bit, but it's forgivable.  I suggest waiting for the video store, but if you're looking for a good date movie and can sit around for a bit of a long film, go catch a matinee.

Buy the DVD from Amazon!
Buy the soundtrack from Amazon!

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