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Robot & Frank

Better living through science

Frank (Frank Langella: Unknown) has lost a few steps over the years. His body aches, his kids never visit and his memory is failing. He occupies himself by walking to the library to hit on the sexy librarian (Susan Sarandon: That’s My Boy) and wandering into a soap store that used to be his favorite diner. His son Hunter (James Marsden: Straw Dogs) is tired of dealing with his cantankerous old man.
    So he buys dad a healthcare robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard: Green Lantern). Robot, named so because Frank refuses to name a machine, sets about trying to stop Frank’s mental regression. Robot puts Frank on a healthy diet and insists on a regimented schedule so he’ll have consistency. Robot also wants Frank to get a hobby to keep his mind stimulated.
    A legendary second-story man, Frank used his knowledge of locks and building plans to rob the wealthy. A couple of stints in jail and old age ended his career but not his longing for the good old days. Having no moral programming, Robot is happy to aid Frank. Under the former cat burglar’s tutelage, Robot learns the art of picking locks, studying marks and finding security system weaknesses.
    It could be the perfect setup, but Frank isn’t the man he was. Mental lapses could spoil his new regimen. Two key questions rise from the tension: Can Frank keep it together long enough to pull off a heist? Is Robot really a machine, or does he, like Frank, develop feelings of friendship?
    This technological tale of camaraderie and aging takes an interesting look at the possible future uses of robotic technology. In his feature debut, director Jake Schreier sets the story in the somewhat near future and cleverly keeps most of the innovations simple: Phones offer video feed. Cars are sleeker. Books are almost completely digitized. Every technology surrounding Frank seems like an inevitable growth from what we have today. This makes the Robot (who in body is played by Rachael Ma) seem a product of this future world and not a storytelling gimmick.
    Schreier also considers both sides of his proposed technology. Frank’s daughter finds the robot creepy and wants it out of the house, while his son is thankful for a tool that keeps his father out of trouble. And while it’s clear that Frank bonds deeply with Robot, the substitution makes avoidance easier for Frank’s son.
    The onus of the movie is on Langella, who delivers a brilliant performance as Frank. Spending 90 percent of the movie talking to an expressionless machine, he creates a believable friendship. Frank is not a sweet oldster losing his fight against dementia but a deeply flawed old man clinging to his last illusions of sanity
    The movie isn’t as perfectly plotted as one of Frank’s heists, however. Too many lucky breaks and coincidences make Robot & Frank more a fantasy tale than a character study.
    Falling between drama and comedy, Robot & Frank is a thought-provoking movie illuminated by a stellar performance.

Good Dramedy • PG-13 • 89 mins.