Robot & Frank has an engaging premise and traipses along at a brisk pace, but as the third act rolls around, it loses momentum and then the ending wanders listlessly. At least Frank Langella is great.
Here’s a trailer:
Released September 19, 2012
Written by Christopher D. Ford
Directed by Jake Schreier
Starring Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, Frank Langella, Peter Sarsgaard, Rachael Ma, James Marsden, and Jeremy Sisto.
* * * * *
Frank (Langella– yeah), is an aging and supposedly retired cat burglar. He is beginning to lose his mental faculties and is kind of a slob, so his son (Marsden) gets Frank a robotic servant (the voice of Sarsgaard with Ma in the robot) to help around the house and make sure Frank eats well and stays safe. Meanwhile, Frank’s other child (Tyler) is far away but is not happy about Frank’s son dropping off a robot. She may be a little prejudiced against them.
Frank quickly learns that his new robot butler can pick locks and he hatches a plan to rob some local pretentious jackwagons of their massively expensive jewelry. It’s possible he wants to do this to sort of get back at these people for changing the local library so much that it might put the pretty librarian (Sarandon) out of a job.
So Frank and the robot go about their caper. Unfortunately, the local cops, led by the Sheriff (Sisto), know that Frank is a ‘retired’ burglar, so the attention goes onto him. So we then have a bit of a heist/escape film.
Which then turns into a semi-tragicomic wandering exploration of dementia and friendship.
Robot & Frank starts well, with a scene of Frank robbing a house. Look closely at the scene after– What house was Frank robbing?
So we get an idea that he might be losing his mind, but soon after that, we learn that Frank is still sharp and still has hopes and dreams. He has a crush on the local librarian and spends his time reading and walking. Langella is a very accessible actor and he quickly establishes depth and realism for Frank’s character. Marsden is also very good with his frustrated devotion to his father– he wants to help but understands when his dad pushes back and fights for his independence. Tyler is also good as the daughter who decides that her brother is screwing everything up.
The writing is sharp, at least to begin with. There is some very nice dialogue between Frank and the robot and their interactions serve to shine a light on how friendship works and just who these characters are. We also get to see a bit of the toll aging takes on a vital, dynamic person.
Everything is lighthearted and fun, even the escape sequences, until we end up with Frank in a new place and we are not sure what just happened. Was the entire film a roundabout essay on dementia? Who was the librarian, after all?
When significant plot questions are posed but unanswered (ala Inception), that’s like having a gun on a mantle and not firing it (thanks, Chekhov). It’s confusing and you begin to wonder what the point was.
If the point of Robot & Frank was to give Langella a chance to essentially do a clinic on light-touch acting, it worked out. If the story was to tell a quirky story about friendship and family, we don’t really know what the story being told was all about.
In the end, Robot & Frank is pretty much harmless, overall pointless entertainment. No punches, no big laughs, no emotional catharsis. All pretty tame, really. Recommended if you can see it without incurring extra costs.
Content warnings: A bit of salty language.
Writing: 3 Acting: 4.5 Overall: 3.5
Please become a robot so that I can program you to always share my reviews with your friends and enemies.