Starring Frank Langella, James Marsden. Written by Christopher D. Ford. Directed by Jake Schreier. PG. 88 min. Opens Aug. 24.
Not since Turner met Hooch has a cinematic pairing held as much promise as the one in Robot & Frank. As played by an especially curmudgeonly Frank Langella, the flesh-and-blood half of the titular duo is a former cat burglar living out his golden years in a sleepy town in upstate New York. Since this story takes place in some unspecified near-future, it’s not so weird for Frank’s frustrated son, Hunter (James Marsden), to show up with the latest in home-care technology: a thoroughly efficient robot butler that speaks with the placid tones of Peter Sarsgaard and looks like Daft Punk’s kid brother.
None too happy to have his tranquility disturbed, but clearly exhibiting symptoms of mental decline, Frank initially rebels against the robot’s efforts to put his life in order. His flighty daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), is also aghast at her brother’s decision, and soon arrives with her own ideas about appropriate care. But Frank’s attitude shifts when he realizes how useful his new companion might be as a partner in crime.
Robot & Frank is the sort of gentle-hearted science-fiction fable that was a specialty of Ray Bradbury, successfully grounding its premise in events that play out with an air of folksy naturalism and a surprisingly sly sense of humour. That’s why it’s such a shame that writer Christopher D. Ford and director Jake Schreier resort to the same final-act twist that some viewers may remember from Lovely, Still, another recent American movie that took an even more whimsical approach to the grim subject of the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Until that development undermines Schreier’s idiosyncratic endeavour, Langella and his synthetic pal are the summer’s most endearing buddy act.