Academy Award nominee Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) stars in this near-future comedy-drama about a retired cat burglar who gets back into the game with the help of nursing robot - a gift from his son. In cinemas Thursday November 15.
Not so much warm-hearted as it is warmed-over, Robot & Frank may be one of the blandest, mushiest non-rom-com films of the year. Director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford have failed to do anything else interesting or innovative whatsoever with their one-note buddy-robot premise, limiting the film’s enjoyment to Frank Langella’s wry, eminently watchable performance as an ageing Alzheimer’s-stricken former thief who finds an unlikely ally in a robot minder. Like many veteran actors whose craft betters with their age, Langella has that wonderful ability to relax into an effortless groove without breaking into a sweat of melodrama.
I also appreciated the film’s unflashy, earthy, vaguely New Age-y envisioning of “the near future”, uncluttered by CGI mega-metropolis-scapes of the Blade Runner kind, and the clean, minimalist retro-futurist design of Robot, which makes for a nice change to your usual noisy blockbuster-standard whirring machinery.
But Robot & Frank is disappointingly stocked with underdeveloped themes and recycled ideas - the indignities of growing old, the perceived synthetic soul of a machine, the increasing trend of technology replacing humanity - all packaged in treacly, yawn-inducing sentimentality that’ll insult anyone after smart, challenging sci-fi entertainment. Of course, Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) had to sound exactly like Hal-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey too. Throw in some ill-placed slapstick to pad out the running time, and Jeremy Sisto in a why-even-bother role as a sheriff trying to nab Langella, and you have a rather underwhelming experience that at its weakest, resembles a stillborn pilot for a sitcom.