Andrew the android (voice of Robin Williams) is purchased in 2003 by
a young family, whose names we never really learn. Since we are seeing the
story through Andrew's eyes, the father (Sam Neill) is referred to as "Sir,"
the mother (Wendy Crewson) as "Ma'am," and the two daughters (Lindze
Letherman and Hallie Kate Eisenberg) as "Miss" and "Little
Miss." As time passes, he becomes a virtual member of the family, but
still sports a stainless steel body and an antiseptic personality. Aware
that something is missing, Andrew desires to find his creator and better
himself. He leaves on a journey that lasts for years, finds his inventor's
son (Oliver Platt), and asks about an "upgrade." Soon he is sporting
skin (looking much like that of Robin Williams), internal organs, and a
nervous system, allowing him the full complement of five senses that humans
enjoy. But when he returns home, many years have passed, and he finds that
his family is very different, too.
The early part of this film represents very little challenge for Williams.
He's basically just Mork from Ork again, except not as funny. There are
attempts at a "who's on first" style of banter between him and
the family, but it is usually not very effective. As Andrew changes, however,
Williams must show us the additional layers of character endowed by his
new software. He becomes more sensitive, more responsive to outside stimuli,
less robotic, if you will, as he grows. It takes him a long time to get
rid of that annoying whirring noise, though. His main counterpart, Embeth
Davidtz, who plays Little Miss as an adult and then her granddaughter Portia,
is convincing within what the script allows her, but the story is so rushed,
there is little room for the kind of metamorphosis needed to give the proper
flow. Platt gives an adequate if low-key performance as Rupert, and some
humor is added by Kiersten Warren as Galatea, his female robot, imbued with
a perky personality at the expense of intelligence.
But the script is definitely a problem. In order to further the 200-year
story in 2 hours, character and relationship issues are too rushed to make
sense. Characters make 180-degree attitude changes overnight, so that we
may go on with the story after their original motivation is fulfilled. Director
Columbus gives an interesting perspective of changes in styles and technology
over the two-century period; it is a clever touch that the technological
advances make perfect, rational sense and the styles in hair and clothing
do not follow any rules whatsoever. Special age makeup effects by Greg Cannom
add to the sense of time passage.
Bicentennial Man deserves at least four hours of playing time for the story to adequately be told; however, this is not practical for a feature release, so it suffers. ****
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