Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz, Sam Neill, Oliver Platt, Wendy Crewson, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Stephen Root, Bradley Whitford, Kiersten Warren, John Michael Higgins
Written by: Nicholas Kazan, based on a novel by Robert Silverberg, Isaac Asimov and a story by Isaac Asimov
Directed by: Chris Columbus
MPAA Rating: PG for language and some sexual content
Running Time: 132
Date: 12/13/1999

Bicentennial Man (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Null and Droid

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Once again Robin Williams plays a character who fights for his humanity, or learns how to be human, or learns through laughter how to be human. Sigh. What happened to the Robin Williams who was just plain funny right at the start of the movie, like in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), The Fisher King (1991), or Aladdin (1992)?

The filmed-in-San Francisco Bicentennial Man is about a robot named Andrew who becomes human over the course of 200 years. He is adopted by a loving family who encourage him when he begins to show signs of creativity and learning. Sam Neill plays his master and teacher. The adorable child actress Hallie Kate Eisenberg is the little girl who accepts Andrew from the start. She grows up to be Embeth Davidtz (Schindler's List), who is also lovely in two roles. And Oliver Platt plays a scientist who helps Andrew with things like skin and internal organs.

Bicentennial Man has a few wonderful moments, mostly when Williams is allowed to be funny, or with little Eisenberg or Platt. But mostly it's a contrived, paint-by-numbers story. I don't mind it when actors fall into a particular rhythm and begin to play variations on the same character (Hugh Grant has done this very well). But Williams' soul-searching seems overwrought. He's clearly uncomfortable with the idea of being "just" a comedian, never mind that he's one of our very best. The Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields never suffered from flights of fancy like this, and history has been kind to them. Comedy can be funny for just the sake of being funny. Bicentennial Man is sometimes sweet, but its also a phenomenal waste of talent, and a continuation of a Williams' trip down the wrong road.

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