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Bicentennial Man

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Lindze Letherman, Sam Neill, Oliver Platt, Allan Rich, Scott Waugh, Wendy Crewson

Review by Greg King
2½ stars out of 4

Based on an Isaac Asimov short story, Bicentennial Man is the story of a robot's 200 year quest to become human.

Robin Williams is perfectly cast as Andrew, a domestic android programmed to carry out household duties - a sort of futuristic, robotic Mr Doubtfire, crossed with The Wizard Of Oz's Tin Man. But Andrew is unique, and has a wit and creativity and a personality that surprise and enchant his human family over three generations. Under the guidance of his master (Sam Neill), Andrew's abilities are fostered and developed, and the robot becomes more intrigued by understanding what it is to become human.

But it is Andrew's feelings for little Miss (played at various ages by an enchanting Hallie Kate Eisenberg and Embeth Davidtz) and her grand daughter (Davidtz again) that inspires him to acquire a more human personality as well. With the help of a sympathetic scientist (the ubiquitous Oliver Platt) he gets a make over that eventually brings him closer and closer to his ultimate dream.

This futuristic comedy basically explores what it is that essentially makes us human - our feelings and emotions, our mortality, our flaws and imperfections, and our ability to make mistakes. Writer Nicholas Kazan (Reversal Of Fortune, etc) and director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, etc) gloss over much of Asimov's vision of the future, and they tone down the darker edge and overtones of prejudice and intolerance that shaped much of his original tale. However, there are some nifty special effects briefly on display here, and the make-up that ages the actors is also very convincing. Columbus directs with his usual slick and light weight style, although there is less slapstick or physical humour here. The role of the android with human feelings is perfect material for Williams, who seems to prefer these earnest roles of late. Columbus manages to tease a far more restrained and understated performance from his star, who is hidden under some clever hi-tech make-up for much of the duration. However, there are several scenes in which one can almost sense Williams' more manic personality threatening to burst out of his constraints.

Neill brings dignity and class to his role as the droid's compassionate and understanding master, while Davidtz brings warmth to her dual role.

The film has a number of touching, heart warming moments, and Columbus is a rather manipulative director who turns the saccharine factor up to almost cloying levels at times. Bicentennial Man is also somewhat slow paced, especially in the second half, and its overly generous running time may test the patience and endurance of many.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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