The burdens faced by adult children confronted with parenting in turn their aging and mentally deteriorating parents, is not a topic you’d tend to associate with science fiction. So it may come as no surprise that, even with a tenderly conceived tale at its core, Robot & Frank is more uneven mix ‘n match than magical.
Frank Langella stars as the Frank in question, a grouchy, troubled elder living a withdrawn existence alone in the old family home up in rustic Cold Spring, New York. Frank also happens to be a career burglar, whose years in prison have left his two grown children feeling neglected but still periodically concerned for his well-being.
Dropping in occasionally, mostly via Skype, from their busy lives far away are son Hunter (James Marsden) and daughter Madison (Liv Tyler). But not to worry, Frank fills his empty life by periodically fine tuning his rusty breaking and entering skills in the area. When not shoplifting items from one annoying new nicknack boutique in particular in town, that replaced his favorite hangout.
Nevertheless, Hunter insists that his resistant dad could use a little help around the house, which has become untidy in the extreme of late. And much to Frank’s dismay, a robot is delivered to the house whether he likes it or not. Though the crafty codger eventually concocts all sorts of unusual schemes as to how he can trick the mechanical intruder into joining up with him in assorted criminal activities. Including the theft of a priceless rare book from the local library, when not distracted by his longtime infatuation with cheerful librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon).
First time director Jake Schreier does his best to infuse emotional weight into this rather light and meandering fare. But the effect is more stiff than dramatically fluid, with a sense of leading the audience around by the nose in much the way that Frank prods his robotic pal about. Though with an injection of quite a heartfelt finale that nearly salvages whatever inconsequential escapades preceded it.
On a side note, an undetectable Peter Sarsgaard pretty much disappears into his role as the voice of the robot. While Liv Tyler does turn up for a little minor mischief, but barely.
Samuel Goldwyn Films
2 1/2 stars
To see the trailer of Robot & Frank: