I’ve been covering a lot of dark and twisted movies recently – “Killer Joe,” “Compliance,” “The Imposter” – so it’s a nice break for me to be reviewing “Robot and Frank.”
It’s a sweet, modest, barely sci-fi yarn about an old man whose adult children are so concerned about they get him a robot to help him around the house.
Frank, played by the great Frank Langella, is suffering from occasional memory lapses, but he’s none too happy about this intrusive visitor. His intial response? “I don’t need to be spoon-fed by some damn robot.” When the robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) first introduces itself, it programmatically tells Frank: “It’s a pleasure to know you.” To which Frank snaps: “How do YOU know?”
And this rocky relationship only gets rockier when the robot throws out all of Frank’s breakfast cereal for health reasons and tries to put him on a grapefruit diet instead.
Since this IS a movie, the story has to go somewhere beyond grumpy-old-man-fights-with-obsequious-robot. Frank and the robot end up bonding when Frank turns the tables on him and teaches him the tools of his trade, which happens to be breaking and entering. It turns out Frank is a cat burglar, and a robot can come in quite handy in that profession.
At times, the plot has the feel of a kid’s movie (the villain is played very, very broadly, for instance) but Langella and veteran actress Susan Sarandon (as the love interest) ground the movie in just enough reality to prevent it from becoming cloying.
“Robot and Frank” is a charming movie that keeps its charms intact all the way through.