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'Robot and Frank': Not another hilarious caper

Robot and Frank


In the hands of another director, "Robot and Frank" might be a hilarious caper about a retired crook looking for one last score and his unwitting robot accomplice. But the reality is that this tidy little film has much more important things to worry about: aging, death, and the little indignities that happen with each lost memory.

Frank Weld (Frank Langella) is slowly losing his mind. He also happens to be an ex-con with a criminal past and a propensity for breaking and entering -- the film begins with him breaking into a home, only to realize that it's his own. That one scene perfectly sums up Frank's dilemma as a man whose only hobby is a crime that he can no longer remember.

Frank's son and daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) have taken this road with him many times and are now so tired of the routine that they have little time for him anymore. His son Hunter (James Marsden) gives him a robot companion (Peter Sarsgaard). It is never given a name. It walks like the Honda ASIMO, but -- as fitting its near-future setting -- is more advanced, capable of everything from gardening to picking locks. It's the latter skill that finally charms Frank and gets him to accept the robot, an artificial intelligence that amorally sees any activity Frank enjoys as critical to his rehabilitation.

Back to that comic caper. Frank discovers his favorite local library is being replaced by yuppie jerk Jake (Jeremy Strong) more interested in converting documents to digital than reading books, and the symbolic struggle between the physical and the electronic centers on an antique copy of Don Quixote. There's even a maiden in the tale, pretty librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). And so, accompanied by his dutiful companion, our errant knight jousts at windmills for his fair lady.

But the truth is much more prosaic. Frank's reality unravels slowly at first, and then snowballs into a series of lies he's told himself and his children, betrayed by his own faulty memory of who he was and who he hoped he would be.

This is a deceptively complex film that offers no easy answers, even if its ending is a little trite.

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