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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 Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

'Bicentennial Man' is a test for ourselves and our attitudes. It is a test aimed at our degree of cynicism. How, in the age of ever increasing resentment towards many things social, can we ever like a film that reaches out and asks us to look at the world through the eyes of a machine? Not to draw a direct comparison, but 'Bicentennial Man' had that strange flavour a la 'Forrest Gump' where the world is viewed sometimes in a misunderstood way by those unfamiliar with its realities. What 'Bicentennial Man' does is it takes this premise one step forward and instead of using human eyes, the eyes and functions of a robot get to see it for two hundred years. Oh, how many of us would like to see the world two centuries from now. A cure for cancer? AIDS? Gasoline in cars? A cashless society? People living on other planets? Day trips to the moon? The next two top 100 lists from the American Film Institute of the greatest films of their given century? Seriously, 'Bicentennial Man' mixes elements of innocence and technology nicely to give the film a smooth texture and never tries to answer questions of society's progress a whole lot but concentrates on how one entity progresses and watches those around him go from one generation to the next.

Chris Columbus is an interesting director. If he had been around twenty five or thirty years ago, I can see him having directed a lot of Disney 'B' fare. Perhaps those rascally 'Herbie the Love Bug' films or those cheesy but entertaining films with a young Kurt Russell. You know, 'The Strongest Man in the World', 'The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes', and 'Now You See Him, Now You Don't' to name a few. In this generation, Columbus has made the first two 'Home Alone' movies, a gem of a forgotten movie, 'Only the Lonely' with the late great John Candy, 'Mrs. Doubtfire' and a real sappy letdown entitled 'Stepmom' which was a film better suited for the likes of Garry Marshall.

Beginning in the year 2005, Robin Williams is the voice of a robot named Andrew brought home to a family by the patriarch whom Andrew refers to as 'Sir' (Sam Neill). There is the lady of the house (Wendy Crewson) and, of course, you have to have children in a Chris Columbus movie. The youngest daughter, Little Miss (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) is the focus of Andrew's curiosity as he tries to learn about human behaviour. One day after a slight malfunction, Sir takes Andrew to be repaired. His strange, human like attributes are explained to the manufacturer (he would love to manufacture many Andrews like this), but Sir makes Andrew tamper proof and many years later, Andrew runs into Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt), the manufacturer's successor, who is also a relative, and slowly, Andrew is given body parts that make him more and more human. All the while, Andrew remains faithful to Little Miss, now a grown woman (Embeth Davidtz). Williams makes his debut in the movie about forty five minutes into the film as a human like character and his presence is a welcomed one as he continues his journey and has many visions of life in the two hundred years that he lives.

Chris Columbus keeps the film on target and maintains a low key approach to the material. It feels like a quiet evening spent at home with family and/or friends doing something docile like playing cards, reading poetry or playing a board game. The film has no loud explosions, foul language, major bursts of emotion and is good family material most of the time.

The film is based on the short story by Issac Asimov and the novel 'The Positronic Man' by Issac Asimov and Robert Silverburg with a screenplay written for the screen by Nicholas Kazan ('Reversal of Fortune'). Kazan brings up memories of some very familiar films such as 'Forrest Gump', as I mentioned earlier, Woody Allen's 'Sleeper' and a few other films that you can see for yourself. This hurts the film somewhat but the direction it dec ides to take compensates for this somewhat.

When Robin Williams first landed in movies back in the late seventies and early eighties, I never thought he would elevate himself to the position he has today. An Oscar winning actor with an impressive list of important social films like 'The Fisher King', 'Dead Poets Society' and 'Good Will Hunting'. He makes films for the serious, the not so serious and the downright whimsical. Even a guest spot of television's 'Homicide' is something over looked by a lot of people as the measure of just how good Robin Williams can be. With the success of 'Apollo 13', Tom Hanks went on to involve himself with a study of the space program with the series entitled 'From the Earth to the Moon'. I would like to see Robin Williams dive into something close to his heart. Perhaps host a documentary of some of pop culture's greatest comedians or star in a bio pick of a real life comedian, something that would gain him even more respect than he's already earned from playing real life characters in films like 'Patch Adams' and 'Awakenings'.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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