Bicentennial Man (1999)
Robin Williams's Tin Man with a Big Heart
One understands why some animals eat their young - Andrew
"Bicentennial Man" is a sweet and charming tale as we follow the life of Andrew a robot, a home appliance who happens to be quite special. It is without a doubt a very sweet tale with little if anything which is offensive, although the occasional reference to sex as Andrew learns about life feels a little out of place in a family movie. But it has two major problems and the first of those is that for a Robin Williams movie it's not the barrel of laughs you expect with Williams almost shackled to a script which denies him the opportunity to adlib. And secondly it almost feels like a move stuck in limbo with elements which seem focussed on fun for younger audiences, then a romance which seems more a kin to a teenage movie and those occasional references to love and love making. As such "Bicentennial Man" feels like a movie which doesn't know who its target audience is, meaning that whilst it's entertaining it at times seems to lose focus.
Brought home to help around the house, Andrew (Robin Williams - Patch Adams) an NDR-114 robot soon shows signs of being quite special. His owner Sir (Sam Neill - Jurassic Park) soon spots that Andrew isn't just a robot and starts giving him lessons in life and being human whilst at the same time Andrew forms a bond with Sir's youngest daughter Little Miss (Hallie Kate Eisenberg). Over the years Andrew learns more and more and whilst those around him die Andrew never ages even. When he meets inventor Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt - Three to Tango) they work together to invent a series of upgrades and artificial body parts to make Andrew more human like. But when he catches up with a now grown up Little Miss (Embeth Davidtz - The Gingerbread Man) and her grand daughter Portia (Embeth Davidtz) it seems that Andrew has some important decisions to make as he falls for her as she falls for him.
One of the nice things about "Bicentennial Man" is the storyline which takes us on a journey through the life of Andrew starting as basically a household appliance that ends up feeling human emotions and in turn transforms himself. It is very sweet and also charming in a manufactured way but it works and there is a pleasantness to it as we watch Andrew become friends with not only his master but also his children in particular Little Miss. And so as the movie progresses and Andrew basically learning to be human we watch him transform, helping design artificial organs which he has fitted as well as falling for Portia the grand daughter of Little Miss.
But here is the thing; this gentle tale seems to go from a comedy for children as we have fun as Andrew learns about being human and progresses into a romance with more adult appeal. That blend makes it feel like either "Bicentennial Man" didn't know who its target audience was or was trying to be all things to all people and sadly it doesn't work. It means that whilst you may enjoy one half of the movie the other half may lack the appeal.
What also doesn't help is that for a Robin Williams comedy it's not the barrel of laughs that you come to expect from such a great comedian. The problem lies in that for the first half of the movie Williams is hidden and restricted by the robot outfit he wears as well as what feels like a tight script. It means that those moments of frenetic adlibbing and mimicry are lacking and although there are some fun scenes especially as Andrew tries to tell jokes, for the most it all feels too scripted. Even in the second half when Andrew gets an outer body make over and so we get Williams it still all feels too shackled to a rigid script and again you get smile moments but not those big laughs you might expect.
And continuing with the issues is the feeling that "Bicentennial Man" wasn't sure who it was made for is in some of the jokes. Now the storyline naturally leads for Andrew to be inquisitive about, love, romance and having sex but it seems out of place in the first half which almost feels focussed on being a children's comedy. Watching Sam Neill as Sir explain love making to Andrew is amusing and so is Andrew's remark about it sounding messy but it just feels wrong and I can only imagine some blushing faces when inquisitive children ask what they are on about. The same can be said of a later scene when Andrew learns that he can be made a real man with the insinuation he could have an important male part added. It's amusing but again just feels like it's out of place in what so often feels like a children's movie.
Aside from Robin Williams who does feel painfully restrained the rest of the performances are nice but unremarkable. Sam Neill is pleasant as Sir and the interactions between Neill and Williams are surprisingly sweet as he aims to teach him about life. And Oliver Platt is fun as inventor Rupert Burns especially with his robot Galatea wonderfully played by Kiersten Warren. But it is Embeth Davidtz as Little Miss and Portia who steal the movie, not because it is a memorable performance but because she is just lovely especially as she gets across the emotional turmoil of her feelings towards Andrew.
What this all boils down to is that "Bicentennial Man" is a nice movie, it is very pleasant, charming and amusing in an often gentle way. But it struggles not just because it feels like Robin Williams is restrained by a tight script but also because it doesn't seem to know who it is trying to appeal to. The first half seems to be trying to be funny for children but as it moves to being a romantic story it seems to morph into something for an older audience. It just doesn't work and as such whilst fun is nothing more than average.
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