Nuts, bolts and bond­ing in ro­bot film

Ro­bot & Frank

Kapi-Mana News - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT -

It’s amaz­ing, and some­what ironic, how much we tend to feel for ro­bots in movies. The best, most fist- pump­ing mo­ment in any of the Star Wars pre­quels was R2-D2 leak­ing oil then pulling a burn job on a droid in Re­venge of the Sith. The most ro­man­tic pic­ture of the past decade was ar­guably Pixar’s Wall-E.

Silent Run­nings – which fea­tured one hu­man and three ro­bots who didn’t talk – re­mains an en­dur­ing cult clas­sic among sci­ence-fic­tion geeks. With­out the sweet, goofy Bum­ble­bee, Trans­form­ers would have been scrap metal, and whose heart didn’t ache for the in­no­cent and es­tranged Ed­ward Scis­sorhands?

We all cast a heavy sigh when Sch­warzeneg­ger melted him­self in Ter­mi­na­tor 2, and dur­ing venge­ful repli­cant Rut­ger Hauer’s haunt­ing fi­nal speech in Blade Run­ner. Not even the pres­ence of Steve Gut­ten­berg could take away from the ec­stasy of know­ing ‘‘Johnny 5 is alive’’ in Short Cir­cuit.

Ro­bots in movies are like an­i­mals – loyal and com­mit­ted, but nor­mally much smarter and they can usu­ally talk back.

In Ro­bot & Frank, screen­writer Christo­pher Ford and di­rec­tor Jake Schreier have achieved the crafty task of work­ing ro­bots and a lit­tle sci- fi into what would oth­er­wise be stan­dard indie fare.

His fa­cil­i­ties dulling and mem­ory fad­ing, re­tired jewel thief Frank (Frank Lan­gella) is strug­gling to take care of him­self, wor­ry­ing his kids – the du­ti­ful Hunter ( James Mars­den) and free-spir­ited flake Mad­di­son (Liv Tyler). Kind of strange how these 30-some­thing adults have trendy kids’ names from the present, eh? That’s be­cause we’re in the fu­ture, around 2040.

Frank could go to some place called the ‘‘Mem­ory Cen­tre’’, but he’s a bit of a hard- arse, who wants to look af­ter him­self, make over­tures to­wards the lo­cal li­brar­ian (Su­san Saran­don) and shoplift soap bombs from a gift store (likely re­venge for it re­plac­ing his favourite cof­fee shop) and prov­ing to him­self that he’s still got it.

So Hunter buys him a ro­bot – glo­ri­ously de­signed to re­sem­ble some­thing out of an old Buck Rogers episode – who cooks, cleans and is set the task of im­prov­ing Frank’s life­style and daily rou­tine.

As is expected, the new house guest is not greeted with much en­thu­si­asm. But can­tan­ker­ous Frank soon warms to Ro­bot – cooly voiced by Peter Sars­gaard – and when he re­alises abid­ing by the law isn’t one of the ma­chine’s core func­tions, he finds he not only has a friend but an ac­com­plice.

Plan­ning heists, pick­ing ‘‘marks’’, Frank feels alive again.

What starts out as a quaint, fu­tur­is­tic odd- cou­ple sce­nario turns into a mad catch-me-if-you­can ca­per as Frank and Ro­bot piss off yup­pie scum who come into town and re- imag­ine the town li­brary as a pre­ten­tiously retro chic ‘‘knowl­edge space’’.

Schreier and Ford have plenty of fun play­ing in the fu­ture – a place where read­ing books is con­sid­ered ec­cen­tric – and with genre con­ven­tions. The script is crisp, very funny and pretty re­lent­less in terms of Frank’s hard­ness and self­ish­ness.

He may have a soft spot for the ro­bot, but there is no easy for­give­ness – nei­ther sought nor granted – for past hurt caused to his fam­ily.

Like sev­eral re­cently re­leased indie pic­tures, such as the sim­i­larly sci- fi lean­ing Safety Not Guar­an­teed, Ro­bot & Frank doesn’t quite know what to do with it­self in the fi­nal half-hour. A reve­la­tion in­volv­ing Saran­don’s char­ac­ter is con­fus­ing and feels des­per­ate, and the tit­u­lar re­la­tion­ship is forced to play sec­ond-fid­dle to plot­ting.

Built for friend­ship: Frank (Frank Lan­gella) finds an un­likely friend and ac­com­plice in hi­lar­i­ous genre hy­brid Ro­bot & Frank.

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