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Awakenings Reviews

Over-earnest, slushy attempt by director Penny Marshall (A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN) and screenwriter Steve Zaillian (SCHINDLER'S LIST) to create screen entertainment from the life and work of neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose name is changed to Dr. Malcolm Sayer for the film, set in 1969. Robin Williams plays the overwhelmingly shy research doctor who is engaged by the chronic care ward of a Bronx hospital and, despite resistance from the authorities, uses the new drug L-DOPA to bring long-abandoned catatonic cases back to (temporary) life. Williams gives one of his winsome "please like me, I'm working very hard" performances that makes you want to cry with impatience and De Niro, as one of his wards, brings new meaning to the word mannered. (Marshall's direction reveals little more than a sense of awe in the face of her high-powered cast and subject matter.) The script pushes all the expected buttons at all the expected moments, leaving you wondering what could have been achieved with a more rigorous, unsentimental approach.