Robot and Frank
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Set in the near future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank’s son chooses a different option: against the old man’s wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. What follows is an often hilarious and heartwarming story about finding friends and family in the most unexpected places. Starring an ensemble cast led by Academy Award nominee Frank Langella (2008, Best Actor, Frost/Nixon), Academy Award Winner Susan Sarandon (1995, Best Actress, Dead Man Walking), Liv Tyler and James Marsden.
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The film makes a stab at being futuristic with transparent cell phones, flat screen phone technology that's really not so far out, one weird looking futuristic car amidst many other 2013 ish looking cars, and there's a theme about books disappearing and libraries digitilizing, another theme about "human movement" in reaction to robot helpers (while watching I thought I'd like to have a robot helper to do my errands and housecleaning!)...all of this is jumbled up with other sub-themes about dysfunctional families, youth vs. age, Robin Hoodism...I could go on. The weirdest part came toward the end when it's revealed (spoiler alert) that the librarian who Frank has had a slight flirtation with turns out to be his ex-wife. Duh?
Please don't waste your time on this one, unless you don't mind wasting time.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
'Robot and Frank' takes place in the 'near future' in Cold Spring, New York (actually shot around Rye, New York). Everything pretty much looks the same except for an occasional futuristic car passing by and Skpe- like video phone messages coming through large screen TVs inside the home. One other thing: there are now sophisticated but small robots available to perform household chores and act as home care attendants.
When aging ex-con and petty thief, Frank (played by Frank Langella), begins exhibiting signs of dementia, his son Hunter buys him a robot to take care of chores around the house and put the old man on a new healthy regimen consisting of good diet and exercise. Perhaps the best part of the film is how the curmudgeonly Frank adapts to the robot--at first he resents its presence but when Frank discovers that the robot is not programmed to have a moral conscience (an unlikely twist!), he begins training it to pick locks and join him in his reinvigorated life of crime. Frank even begins not to mind the healthy food the robot has been preparing for him.
Just as Frank is becoming obsolete, so is the local library run by Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) who sadly is forced by a local developer to dispose of their entire print collection; with all the books being transformed into digital copies. Frank gets the idea that if he steals a rare copy of Don Quixote and ultimately returns it to Jennifer, that will please her. This is the first rather unfunny scene involving a burglary.
Things pick up a bit when Frank's daughter, Madison, an activist who believes humans shouldn't rely on robots, gums things up when she arrives at the family home and insists on caring for Frank, herself. She turns the robot off which interferes with Frank's plans to commit burglary #2. When Frank intentionally turns the house into a pigsty, she's forced to use the robot for cleaning and eventually agrees to allow her father to use the robot, but only periodically during the day.
One gets the feeling that screenwriter Christopher Ford runs out of real creative ideas to move the plot along in the second half. The plot is rather silly, with Frank targeting Jake, the developer responsible for renovating the library. Jake is a cartoon bad guy and we're not supposed to feel bad that Frank burglarized his home. Frank and the Robot end up swiping some expensive jewels belonging to Jake's wife but he convinces the police to put Frank under 24 hour surveillance. It's all very awkward with a bunch of cartoon cops waiting outside in a van, who eventually are able to gain entrance into the home (I can't recall if a warrant was actually revealed but I believe Frank invites the police in).
Before you know it, Frank realizes that all the evidence is on the Robot's hard drive and he must wipe it clean before the police access it. The wiped hard drive is equated with Frank's growing dementia as his memory is 'wiped clean' too at film's end. This becomes apparent when his adult children visit him at a new fangled 'memory center' and we see Frank's dementia is now full blown.
There is also another revelation before Frank loses all his marbles: Jennifer the librarian is actually Frank's ex-wife. It's supposed to be poignant but since Susan Sarandon is given so little to do beforehand, the little surprise hardly makes a mark.
The one big saving grace for 'Robot and Frank' is Frank Langella's assured performance as the determined curmudgeon. His surly relationship with the robot provides enough entertainment for most of the film. The narrative falters when Frank commits the pair of unfunny bumbling burglaries, suggesting that the screenwriter was not up to the task of finding a truly clever ending for this lightweight property.
"Robot & Frank" (2012 release, 89 min.) brings the story, set in upstate NY "in the near future" of Frank (played by Frank Langella) who is an ex-con (a "cat burglar" as Frank puts it) in the latter stage of his life when his memory fails him at times. Living alone has become a challenge and one day Frank's son buys him a robot who can be a do-it-all butler for Frank. Then a strange thing happens: after initially resisting the robot as much as possible, Frank discovers he actually likes the robot's help and, even more important, its companionship. Soon thereafter, Frank concots a plan to commit one last heist, with the help of the robot. At that point we are not even half-way into the movie, and to reveal more would certainly ruin your viewing experience. You'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Several comments: (i) the movie is a strange mix of a bitter-sweet family drama, character study, buddy movie, and comedy (of course not all at the same time), but the movie finds its own pace and somehow it all works; as a result, and knowing the general premise of the movie going in, I couldn't wait to see what would happen and how it would all end; (ii) speaking of the end of the movie, it came as quite the surprise, and certainly too abrupt for my liking; (iii) this is another great, great performance from Frank Langella, who seems to be getting better with age; (iv) on the contrary, most of the supporting cast, in particular Liv Tayler, felt forced, the one exception being Susan Sarandon as the local librarian. If you are in the mood for something a bit deeper and more personal and human than the latest Avengers or Dark Knight Rises, I would recommend this in a heartbeat. In fact, I'd classify this as just "another little movie that could". The movie "Robot & Frank" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!