"Robot and Frank": When Good Helper-Bots Go Bad

A more hopeful reimagining of 2001's portrait of man-machine relations, Robot & Frank envisions a near future in which automated servants aid the elderly in their twilight years. For retired cat burglar Frank (Frank Langella), memory loss is something to be denied, and the robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) with which he's saddled by his son Hunter (James Marsden) is an intruder to be hated — until, that is, he discovers that his mechanical assistant is willing to be trained as his thieving accomplice. Jake Schreier's film charts their burgeoning friendship — which comes to include heists and cover-ups of an alternately sly and clumsy sort — with an attention to its protagonist's need for a companion who, unlike Hunter and activist daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), will listen to and acknowledge him for who he is. Even with regards to a nicely underplayed climactic revelation, the sentimental drama is more attuned to issues of acceptance and self-reflection than actual suspense, and Sarsgaard's vocal performance deftly colors his preprogrammed remoteness with hints of human curiosity and deviousness. It's Langella, however, who ultimately props up this borderline-schmaltzy character study, exhibiting a heartbreaking sense of destabilization and confusion that nonetheless can't quite quell his indomitable criminal — and profane cranky-old-man — spirit.

 
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