The second flick-on-a-family-theme for this week (the first being Stuart Little), Bicentennial Man plays to a much more mature audience. But if you saw "Starring: Robin Williams" and "Directed by: Chris Columbus" and thought "Mrs. Doubtfire 2?", guess again.
THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
Supposedly spanning a 200-year period (hence the title - though the importance of that passage of time still escapes me, and indeed was one of the problems with this movie), Bicentennial Man tells the story of Andrew Martin (Robin Williams), a robot purchased by the wealthy Martin family - Sir (Sam Neill), Ma'am (Wendy Crewson), Miss (Lindze Letherman), Little Miss (Hallie Kate Eisenberg as a child; Embeth Davidtz as an adult), Lance (Bradley Whitford), and Portia (Davidtz again) - and attached with them in one way or another throughout its existence. Or maybe more correctly, his existence: for as time passes, and with the help of scientist Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt) and his perky robot Galatea (Kiersten Warren), Andrew "evolves" from "one who wishes to serve" to a creative, cognitive, sentient being. But - does having human body parts, make him Human?
An aside to compare and contrast the effects of time on this reviewer: even at its short 94 minute length, I knew right away that I didn't like Stuart Little; in fact, right after the first 10 minutes or so, I was ready to book out tha house. Conversely, the remarkable The Green Mile, weighing in at a hefty 188 minutes, could keep me in my seat for immeasurable moments more, as long as it continued to weave its wonders in front of my eyes. By comparison, Bicentennial Man, a 2 hour 25 minute flick, while it never made me want to abandon ship, also never grabbed my full attention; I certainly noticed the clock, and shifted in my seat, quite often. This, my friends, is not A Good Thing.
Part of the problem, I think, is that the movie was never quite sure what it wanted to be. The first part was definitely reminiscent of the Williams/Columbus collaboration, Mrs. Doubtfire (also set in San Francisco. Coincidence? Hmm.) - but that lasted only as long as the piano duet scene with Andrew and Little Miss; the flickers of Mrs. Doubtfire left the screen when the first generation of Martin children grew up. From there on, the heaviness set in, and any thoughts that Bicentennial was a comedy, rolled out with the morning fog. At best, it could be called humorous in spots, heavy on the Message; interesting, but never quite fulfilling.
A lot of critics will probably place the blame for the mostly-disappointing results of BM [hmmm...maybe that's not such a good abbreviation for it. oh well] on Robin Williams; as a zany comedian who has had some good and not-so-good turns as a straight actor, Williams is the easiest target to choose. But I will disagree with those critics who point at Williams; no, I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Chris Columbus. His direction lacks Direction; his vision is unclear, and without having a firm grasp on anything but smarmy sentimentality [c'mon, Chris; were three death scenes really necessary?], it's little wonder that this movie missed the mark.
Williams definitely reigned in his usual wild humor, though bits of it strained to peek from under that cute android suit (I'll disagree with many critics here again: it wasn't until Andrew's first upgrade that the android gear, especially the facial expressions, started looking dumb). He played Andrew with the necessary subtlety up until Andrew became Informed, through reading the numerous books that Sir provided for him, and wanted his freedom (there's a bit for The Black Factor, no?) From there, the movie turned from being the story involving family interactions, to Andrew's One-Robot Crusade; his Forrest Gump-like trek around the world caused such a dead spot, you could hear the snores throughout the audience. Columbus, not Williams, should be the one burning at the stake for all those snores.
As far as the supporting cast goes, only Neill, Platt, and the effusively funny Kiersten Warren as the Barbie-like Galatea (I could Feel Andrew's "do you have an impact wrench?", I tell ya), made a dent in the movie. As Sir, Neill (who I best liked in "The Hunt For Red October") was made to do one of those silly "conscience talks" with Andrew late into the movie (damn that Chris Columbus!), but other than that, his performance was understated - and welcome; Platt (who I remember from "Flatliners", though I can't say I liked it) also played it quiet, but that was a good call on his part. For some bizarre reason, Wendy Crewson's Ma'am was all but invisible (and I wish that I could say the same thing for the bratty Miss; maird, I wanna go on a butt-whuppin spree on some of these movie kids one of these days), and thankfully, the irritating Eisenberg didn't ply her trade for long here (that child's commercials make me wanna stop drinking Pepsi). Davidtz was interesting enough, but by the time she came onto the scene again as Portia, I was anxious for this thing to wrap up. And curses onto Chris Columbus' head for not using the usually wonderful Bradley Whitford, more in this flick; he could've easily played Gerald, the Robotics company owner (played by the equally little-used Steven Root). What a waste of opportunity that was; Whitford plays Slime like few others in Hollyweird.
Overall, Bicentennial Man took too long to get where it got, painted a weird picture of the future (whatever happened to natural evolution over 200 years? And are cars the only things that'll "change" over that time span, huh Chris?) and left me with more questions than answers (but unlike the higher-rated-than-it-should've-been Dogma, my itch to have those questions answered, isn't noticeable enough to make me pay to see BM again); still, it wasn't half-bad for an afternoon's worth of entertainment.
THE "BLACK FACTOR"   [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]
In a futuristic movie spanning two hundred years and taking two hours and twenty-five minutes to tell, I recalled seeing only one Black person: character actor Lynne Thigpen (though at least she was the leader of the World Congress - an organization the thought of which, by itself, makes me roll on the floor, laughing).
So what's the total? Thigpen, Nichelle Nichols, LeVar Burton, that guy that played Sisko on one of the Star Trek shows...hey, no sweat. We're used to it by now.
[oops. I forgot Billy Dee "Calrissian" Williams. Ok, so there's five of Us running around in the future.]
BAMMER'S BOTTOM LINE
At 2 hours 25 minutes, Bicentennial Man felt longer than The Green Mile, and had some plot holes big enough to drive my truck into - but all things considered, Robin Williams acquitted himself well enough. But I do so miss the Funnyman underneath all that makeup.
back to top