A warm drama that drifts into light, goofy comedy, this film is too slight to be a classic, but its subtly sharp-edged script holds our interest and gives the cast something to work with. Frequently very funny, this is much more than just a story of an old man with a robotic sidekick, as it explores jagged family relationships and even features a lively caper subplot.
At the centre is Frank (Langella), who doesn't want to leave the rural home where he raised his now-adult children (Marsden and Tyler). Even as they have their own lives far away, they worry about him living alone, so his son buys him a robot assistant (voiced by Sarsgaard) whose only mission is to look after Frank's mental and physical health. Frank dismissively names it "Robot" and tries to ignore it until he realises that its prime directive allows it to help him secretly relaunch his cat-burgling career. His first target is to rescue the town library run by his old friend Jennifer (Sarandon), which is about to be turned into a high-tech social centre by a young businessman (Strong).
Director Shreier keeps the film's pace gentle, underplaying both the comedy and suspense while letting Langella indulge in an enjoyably grumpy scene-stealing performance. Frank may be losing his memory, but he is still sharp as a tack when it comes to planning a heist, especially with the help of Robot. And watching him build up the confidence to pursue Jennifer is enjoyable as well. Meanwhile, Sarsgaard nods to 2001's Hal in the way he invests Robot with deadpan humour and emotion. By comparison, none of the side characters has much to do since they haven't a clue about what Frank is up to.
While the film is set in the near future, the high-functioning robot still has a blocky 1980s style, which presents the growing rapport between Robot and Frank in ways that are surprising and often amusing. Most scenes are structured like small jokes, with dialog building up to a subtle punchline. All of this makes the film thoroughly engaging even if the story never pushes our imagination or delivers on its promise. Even so, it reminds us that growing old doesn't mean that we have to give up on life. And the final scenes add some strongly resonant emotion.
Run time: 89 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 19th September 2012
Box Office USA: $3.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $3.3M
Distributed by: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Production compaines: Park Pictures, TBB, Dog Run Pictures, White Hat, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Stage 6 Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 106 Rotten: 17
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Jake Schreier
Producer: Lance Acord, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Sam Bisbee, Galt Niederhoffer
Screenwriter: Christopher D. Ford
Starring: Frank Langella as Frank, Liv Tyler as Madison, James Marsden as Hunter, Susan Sarandon as Jennifer, Peter Sarsgaard as Robot (voice), Jeremy Strong as Jake, Jeremy Sisto as Sheriff Rowlings, Bonnie Bentley as Ava, Dario Barosso as Flattop, Rachael Ma as Robot, Joshua Ormond as Freckles, Katherine Waterston as Shopgirl, Jesse Newman as Reception Guest, Ana Gasteyer as Shoplady, Dana Morgan as Additional Robot
Also starring: Galt Niederhoffer