Offbeat – I haven’t seen this movie before. Robot & Frank, yes, reminds me of mashed-up films of the past. While it was getting started, however, I had no idea of where it was going until I was through the first half. Frank Langella is a great old codger for a leading man, here playing a man with Alzheimer’s. In the near future, functional robots play maid and butler or in Frank’s case, a mental health caretaker. This is the kind of future where libraries are converting to digital reading centers. This disgusts Frank so much that he plots to steal a hardbound copy of “Don Quixote.”
That’s only the beginning of what he plots to steal. Frank is a long-retired jewel thief who spent years in prison, and despite of that, carved a semi-normal life that included having a loving ex-wife and two educated children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler, as the adult children who fret and worry). He is in need of daily help and convalescent homes are out of the question for a freebird like Frank.
The robot is a hunk-a-junk to Frank, and the movie teeters a moment towards making us wonder how he’s going to dismantle it. But he soon enjoys manipulating the robot like teaching it how to steal. Morality software is built into the robot’s program, but Frank figures ways around it. Except that “It” becomes more than just a thing, the robot is a companion.
Perhaps the robot becomes a mirror of Frank’s old self since he can bounce ideas and private thoughts off it that he can’t with his own children. There is a lovely supporting performance by Susan Sarandon as the sole community librarian whom he courts. Frank feels love for her but what predominantly occupies him is the way he gets caught up in his old ways of plotting, scheming and snatching.
The movie says something truthful about human nature, the need to cling onto bad-boy activities to feel connected with the purer self. And it does it in an entertaining way. I only wish this modest but dedicated indie had a slightly higher budget to lavish a fuller portrait of Frank’s city. But for out-there peculiar concepts, “Robot & Frank” sure is neat-o.
90 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / CRIME STORY / LATE NIGHT WEIRDNESS
Film Cousins: “Atlantic City” (1981); “Breaking In” (1989); “A.I.” (2001); “Memory of a Killer” (2003, Belgium).