"Robot & Frank" is a cute comedy-drama that presents issues about growing old and health care for the elderly in a very entertaining way.
The film by movie producer turned first-time feature director, Jake Schreier, and TV writer-producer and first-time feature screenwriter, Christopher D. Ford, should garner an actor Oscar nomination for Frank Langella, previously nominated for his stunning portrayal of former President Richard Nixon in director Ron Howard's "Frost-Nixon" (2008).
In "Robot & Frank," set in "the near future" as its stated, Langella plays Frank, a distinguished elderly man who may or may not have his wits about him. One is never too sure whether he's being coy, forgetful or larcenous.
That's because, as the movie-goer is reminded by Frank in anecdote-rich monologues, he was once a second-story man, a cat burglar, a jewel thief and, by his self-admission, one of the best.
Frank retired to Pearl River, N.Y., where he lives in a wooded area outside of town in a Dutch-Colonial house. He lives alone and is not the best of housekeepers.
His son, Hunter (James Marsden), who resides 10 hours away roundtrip, is concerned so he gets his father a home healthcare worker: a Robot, without a name, or identification but that of a number: VGC-60L.
Frank resists, even though the Robot is dutiful as a butler, cook, nutritionist, cleaning person, gardener and wakeup alarm. Soon, he realizes that the Robot can serve his purpose to revive his burglary "career."
When Frank befriends the town librarian (Susan Sarandon) and learns of a rare volume of "Don Quxote," he plans his heist. The Robot will play, ahem, a key role. However, when Frank's daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), shows up to stay with him, the Robot, for her, becomes a real turn-off literally.
Langella is elegantly aloof as Frank in a carefully-modulated, masterful performance. He simultaneously projects his character's former towering strength, brio and hostility, and his present-day cantankerousness, wistfulness and doddering fragility. His interactions with the Robot are, by turns, hilarious and piquant.
The Robot, all-white, with astronaut-style helmet and much shorter than Frank, looks like a toy Lego figure. The Robot conveys the sense of an R2-D2 from "Star Wars" (1977), the Robot from "Short Circuit" (1986) and Hall from "2001" (1968), the latter thanks to the precise and droll vocal inflections of Peter Sarsgaard. Rachel Ma is credited as the Robot Performer.
Frank and the Robot are a sort of Mutt and Jeff duo. Taller and shorter is always funny in film or on stage.
The casting of Marsden and Tyler is effective, not only because they share similar pouty lips with Langella and could pass for his real-life children. Each creates an ego-based self-possession in their not unsympathetic portrayals. Frank was really not much of a dad to them.
Excellent in supporting roles is Jeremy Strong as a library consultant and Jeremy Sisto as the town sheriff.
"Robot & Frank" is filmed in predominantly washed-out blue and, later on, yellow, tones that emphasize the loneliness of Frank's existence.
The premise of the film is highly-creative and, by its conclusion, there are surprises, turning it into somewhat of a nifty caper-thriller.
After seeing "Robot & Frank," you may never look at a robot, or an elderly person, in quite the same way.
"Robot & Frank," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for some language; Genre: Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi; Run time: 1 hr., 29 min.; Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Credit Readers Anonymous: Stay for the beginning of the "Robot & Frank" closing credits for promotional footage of actual robots in use. Also, the credits include those for Robot Talent Associate, Robot Production Assistants, as well as special effects, presumably also for the Robot.
Box Office, Sept. 14: "Resident Evil: Retribution" opened at No. 1, with $21 million, keeping the 3D re-release of "Finding Nemo," opening at No. 2, with $17.5 million, with "The Possession" dropping to No. 3, $5.8 million, $41.1 million, three weeks;
4. "Lawless," $4.2 million, $30.1 million, three weeks; 5. "ParaNorman," $3 million, $49.3 million, five weeks; 6. "The Expendables 2," $3 million, $80.2 million, five weeks; 7. "The Words," $2.8 million, $9.1 million, two weeks; 8. "The Bourne Legacy," $2.8 million, $107.8 million, six weeks; 9. "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," $2.5 million, $46.2 million, five weeks; 10. "The Campaign," $2.4 million, $82.8 million, six weeks
Unreel, Sept. 21:
"Trouble with the Curve," PG-13: Clint Eastwood stars as an ailing baseball scout who takes his daughter (Amy Adams) along on his last recruiting trip in the drama that also stars Justin Timberlake and John Goodman.
"End of Watch," R: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anna Kendrick and America Ferrera star in the crime-thriller about two young police officers targeted by a drug cartel.
"House at the End of the Street," PG-13: Jennifer Lawrence ("Hunger Games") and Elizabeth Shue star as a daughter and her mother who moved next door to the wrong house in the horror-thriller.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower," PG-13: Emma Watson ("Harry Potter") and Paul Rudd star in the romance-drama about an introverted freshman.
"Unconditional," PG-13: Lyn Collins and Michael Ealy star in the drama about a widow trying to start over again.
"Dredd 3D," R: A police officer tries to prosecute a drug-dealing gang in the action-sci-fi film starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey and Rachel Wood.
Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site, tnonline.com, and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Lehigh Valley Community Public Radio WDIY 88.1 FM, wdiy.org. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@ tnonline.com and on Facebook.
Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes