Wednesday, December 22, 1999

Bicentennial Man

Posted By on Wed, Dec 22, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Director Chris Columbus has Robin Williams dressed up yet again. First as Mrs. Doubtfire, now as the precocious robot, Andrew Martin, in the future flick, Bicentennial Man, based on a story by Isaac Asimov. The new movie looks back – not to the rubber-padded dad who poses as a nanny to get access to his kids – but rather to the anxiety-ridden android, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), in Blade Runner.

Bicentennial Man and Blade Runner share that vision of a future heavily populated by androids and genetic scientists. But the former works under the notion that the tragic aspects of the human condition (death, loss, loneliness, etc.) can somehow be erased or made more bearable by clever insights, stubborn hope and long walks on the beach. The understatement is overwhelming.

Andrew remains painfully civilized during his bizarre and inexplicable evolution from an "it" (a piece of titanium with a remote control) to a "he" with feelings and ambition. He takes the news about mortality rather well, wishing he could shed a tear. That is in lieu of hunting down his creator and crushing his head with his bare hands, as Batty did upon discovering that he was going to expire without hope that the science that created him could save him.

Now inject this Disney version of Blade Runner with a healthy dose of the City of Angels brand of impossible romance, and you have a good idea what Bicentennial Man is really made of. Between petitioning for his independence and trying to mimic humanity, Andrew manages to create a simulated nervous system for himself and to win the heart of the great-granddaughter, Portia (Embeth Davidtz), of his original owner, "Sir" (Sam Neill).

A fine premise, however, proves to be a few nuts and bolts short of a good, light-hearted science fiction movie. Forcing too many upgrades into two hours is only one of the ways Bicentennial Man goes from interesting to schmaltz. Andrew starts out as a clunky, anthropomorphic laptop and, somehow, ends up in a sweater and trousers eating scrambled eggs with a good-looking blonde – only one of many stretches that cause the viewer’s imagination to snap back painfully.

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