Robot & Frank (out today in New York and in Los Angeles on August 24th before expanding nationally) would end up being little more than a jokey, mawkish mashup of Grumpy Old Men and 1986's woeful Short Circuit. Thankfully, this new release's mechanical star is a vast improvement on "Johnny 5" and star Frank Langella grounds the movie's considerable humor and gravitas, making both more down-to-earth.
Langella plays the second of the title characters. Frank is a retired cat burglar and ex-con living in "the near future" and slipping from mild into advanced dementia. Long divorced and with two grown children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) who want little to do with him, Frank subsists on little more than cold cereal. He spends his days making trips to the local, imperiled library, where he flirts with the mature, friendly librarian (Susan Sarandon). Frank then spends most nights breaking into his own home in an effort to reclaim past thrills.
Concerned about his father's well-being but not wanting to get too involved, Frank's son buys his dad the latest in home health robots. A faceless, nameless piece of advanced technology that speaks with the soothing tones of actor Peter Sarsgaard, Robot cooks, cleans, monitors Frank's vital signs and encourages Frank to participate in physically- and mentally-stimulating activities. Frank initially resents the electronic "babysitter" but a bond gradually grows between them as Frank's health does indeed improve. Since Robot knows nothing in the way of morals or ethics apart from its absolute dedication to Frank's well-being, Frank soon enlists his companion as an unwitting accomplice in a new string of increasingly-risky heists.
Unpredictable, smart and sweet, Robot & Frank is also entertaining and thought-provoking on multiple levels. The first produced screenplay written by Christopher D. Ford and the feature debut of director Jake Schreier, the film heralds the arrival of two new talents to watch. It also boasts excellent, seemingly effortless performances by Langella and Sarandon, a too-brief cameo appearance by Ana Gasteyer, fine robot costumes/effects and a terrific, primarily electronic music score by Francis and the Lights. Ultimately a reflection on connections lost and regained in our post-modern, technology-dependent era, Robot & Frank is a late-summer movie treat that may end up one of the year's better films. I loved it.
Reverend's Rating: A-
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.