“Being Human” never comes alive. This stillborn series of little fables is so flat and ill-conceived that it could convince the uninitiated that neither Robin Williams nor the highly idiosyncratic Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth had any talent. Clearly knowing full well what they were stuck with, Warner Bros. kept this one under wraps for at least a year, and distrib’s only hope is that a lot of Williams fans anxious to see his first outing after “Mrs. Doubtfire” (although it was filmed earlier) will turn out on opening weekend before the smell gets too bad.
Eleven years ago, Forsyth and producer David Puttnam made “Local Hero” for Warner, an outstanding example of a quirky, very independent-minded film made for a major studio. Lightning has decidedly not struck twice, however.
“Being Human” is quirky, all right, but to no apparent point. Its most singular achievement, in fact, is to have succeeded in draining any vestige of humor out of Williams. Coming from so many gifted people, film’s artistic failure is quite puzzling, and rather sad.
Forsyth has built this curiosity out of five historical vignettes centered upon a character named Hector who’s played by Williams. Hector’s station in life changes from one episode to the next — he’s a caveman in the Bronze Age, a slave during the Roman Empire, a traveler fleeing war in the Middle Ages, a Portuguese adventurer during the Age of Exploration and a hapless divorced man in contempo New York — but in any era he’s a meek, ineffectual wimp who can’t make a decision or stand up for himself.
In prehistoric times, Hector stands by helplessly as invaders make off with his woman and two daughters. At a Roman outpost, Hector suffers from having a stupid master (John Turturro) who insists that he commit suicide with him.
In the Alps in medieval times, Hector is welcomed into the warm arms and home of a lovely widow (Anna Galiena), but rushes out of her embrace to embark on a long journey home. As a shipwrecked sailor on the African coast, the man seems less concerned over matters of survival than in making up with a former lover.
Finally, in New York, Hector undertakes a timid reunion with his daughter and son, from whom he has been separated for some time for a rather peculiar reason.
Surely, one imagines asthe playlets unfold at a groggy clip, Forsyth is working toward some interesting reflections on the human condition, some deeply felt commentary on history and humanity’s relative enlightenment or lack of same.
But, after more than two hours of patience-eroding tepid drama and non-comedy , the picture shockingly reveals no philosophical connective tissue, no elements that have been meaningfully placed and built so as to coalesce into rewarding meaning at the end.
The episodes all have something to do with the search for family and home, as well as journeys across land and water, and there are running gags about chickens, but there is no payoff. Forsyth must have had some vision of the human animal’s position in the universe to prompt him to undertake such a project, but it became lost somewhere along the way. Indeed, the picture’s intellectual fabric proves stunningly thin.
As entertainment, it’s equally a washout. Never in a film has Williams’ inspired, manic personality been so suppressed, never has he seemed so bland.
Here and there are some odd situations and bits. But some circumstances conspired to jointly cancel the well-proven talents of all the participants on this one, proving they’re only human.