In Bicentennial Man, Robin Williams plays Andrew, a robot so superior to the average 21st-century domestic appliance that he carves delicate wood sculptures and digs classical music. Andrew’s great goal is to become a free man, capable of love and sexual expression. And by showing his willingness to accept human mortality rather than exist forever in robotic loneliness, this futuristic fable, based on stories by Isaac Asimov, addresses some intriguing notions about where artificial intelligence ends and biological life begins.
It’s hard to appreciate the philosophical details, however, when director Chris Columbus, working once again with his Mrs. Doubtfire star Robin Williams, seals this comedy in an impenetrable bubble of hollow humanism. The one-dimensional message, factory-sealed for our protection against any disorderly thoughts or emotions of our own, is that freedom and individuality are nice. Williams is extra nice, of course. Andrew’s human beloved, played with stilted poise by Embeth Davidtz (Schindler’s List), is super-nice. And you’re nice too.
As the decades roll on, and Andrew, upgraded, begins to look more and more like an ageless Robin Williams, all the people around him age in a flourish of latex wrinkles and talcum-powdered hair. If, as Bicentennial Man implies, we are all destined to look like Mrs. Doubtfire, the future is bleaker than science-fiction visionaries could ever have dreamed. C- — LS