Rated PG - Running Time: 2:11 - Released 12/17/99

The concept of Bicentennial Man, originated by Isaac Asimov in his story by the same name, is a fascinating one. It is the story of a robot who desires to be human (fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation will remember the android character Data going through the same thing). Unfortunately, Chris Columbus's film isn't able to accomplish the Man's 200-year journey without seriously cutting corners. In a film that is over 2 hours long, relationships are simplified, history is simplified, and technology is simplified, so that we don't get mired down in the details of Andrew's epic story. But the result is oversimplification. This story can't be effectively covered in two hours. It deserves a mini-series.

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. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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