September 05, 2012

MOVIES: Robot & Frank (Jake Schreier, 2012)

Robot & Frank is a resoundingly mediocre movie with one excellent performance buried in it.

That performance comes from Frank Langella, who plays Frank, an elderly retired burglar who lives alone in upstate New York. His son (James Marsden) visits once a week; his daughter (Liv Tyler) is a globe-trotting do-gooder who writes grant proposals to help "the sad, beautiful people of Turkmenistan." Frank occasionally drops into town to flirt with the librarian (Susan Sarandon), but is otherwise something of a hermit.

His son, worried that Frank's memory lapses are worsening to the point that his father can no longer care for himself, buys a home health care robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard in the blandly polite monotone that has been the standard "I'm a machine" voice ever since HAL). Frank resists, but ultimately finds that the robot really is helpful, in ways that neither he nor his son would ever have anticipated.

Langella is delightful here, getting all the subtle nuances of Frank's decline into early senility, his recovery as the robot provides mental and emotional stimulation, and his joy at realizing that his life may not be entirely over yet.

But he's the only interesting thing in the movie, in which the other actors are dull (well, Jeremy Sisto has an amusing moment or two in his small role as the local sheriff) and the story filled with predictable cliches. The script can't decide how serious Frank's memory problems really are, which sets up one of the most absurd third-act plot twists I've ever seen.

Langella is good enough that he'll hold your interest when the movie shows up on cable, but the movie is flimsy enough that I wouldn't recommend you actually pay money to see it.

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