Robot & Frank (2012)
3 out of 5 stars
I saw a preview for this indie drama recently, either at the theatre or on another DVD, so I added it to my Netflix queue.
The story intrigued me by having an aging jewel thief, suffering from dementia, pass on the tricks of his trade to the domestic robot his son purchased as a home-health aide. High-tech parental neglect? Hard to say, since Frank refused to be shuffled off to the near-future nursing home (called a Brain Center). As expected, Frank also despised the robot foisted upon him by his son, going so far as to pit his daughter, the epitome of the idealist activist, against his son in a human v. robot philosophical battle. Meanwhile, Robot (Frank never deigns to name it) slowly grows on Frank.
You won’t find any evidence of Asimov’s Three Laws in Robot’s programming. His primary directive is to take care of Frank, helping him stay on a regular schedule, eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise and take up a hobby, like gardening, to stimulate his brain and fight off the ravages of the dementia. Frank scoffs at grubbing in the dirt, but eventually shows Robot how to pick a lock, using his old cat burglar lock pick set. Frank even questions Robot about his ethics, showing that Robot can lie and has no qualms about stealing. That was all the excuse Frank needed to plan their first job and return to his favorite past-time.
One (or two) of the funniest scenes involve children harassing Robot outside the library while Frank visits with the librarian and checks out more books. Franks runs off the kids and advises Robot that next time he should say ‘Self-destruct sequence initiated’ and start counting down from ten. Robot puts this to good use later, only using it against more gullible adults. I chuckled both times.
All of this plays out against the backdrop of his family: His son who is torn between visiting and caring for his father and spending time with his own family; his globe-trotting daughter traveling the third world in pursuit of her next research grant; and his forgotten ex-wife, played charmingly by Susan Sarandon, as the nearly superfluous local librarian. Frank Langella’s performance as, um, Frank, also shined. True to form, Robot did as programmed, no matter how much Frank or the audience hoped it might surpass or overcame said programming. Or did it? Check the garden, under the tomatoes.