Lowdown: Burglary schemes unite and old man and his caretaker robot.
Robot & Frank starts off by putting son Hunter in a difficult situation I can properly identify with: his elderly father, Frank (Frank Langella), has got to the stage where he needs constant looking after. He can no longer properly look after himself and his house. His memory betrays him more often than not, too. Sure, Hunter wants to help, but circumstances make it hard on him: he has his own family to look after, he lives five hours away, and besides – it’s not like his father makes looking after him a nice experience. Not only is the father ungrateful, he also doesn’t appear to be the world’s nicest person.
Hunter’s solution: give his father a caretaker robot. Yes, in the near future these are general, if expensive, consumer products. I wonder now whether one of these is awaiting me in my elderly future?
Despite initial reluctance, the robot quickly grows on Frank. For a start, it allows our not so heroic hero of the film to shoplift novelty soaps and it lets him chat up the librarian (Susan Sarandon). It is then that it dawns on Frank that through mutual interests – the interest of the robot to see his owner getting healthier and the interest of Frank to get his way - that the robot has the potential to be quite useful. And Frank’s way, the escapade in which the robot could be helpful, is burglaries; we learn these are the only thing Frank was really good at (even though it had him doing time twice).
What follows next is a sort of a dramatic comedy that deals and delves into all of the above mentioned themes. We have a look at the problems with growing old, both from the old side of the family as well as the younger (for example, notable in their absence are the grandchildren). We have a look at society’s acceptance of technology, in the form of a robot; Frank’s daughter (Liv Tyler) helps with that aspect. And we have your general heist story, too.
It’s nice and all but the combination of themes fails to do Robot & Frank too much good. The various themes are piled up on top of one another, making it hard to discern what this movie is trying to tell us beyond its basic story level. Add the problem of Frank not being the easiest person in the world to identify with - he’s quite an asshole, even to his children - and the whole affair finds itself unable to rise above the simple “nice” movie experience.
Overall: A clear case of a science fiction film with much potential that tries for too much and ends up with not much. 3 out of 5 stars.