Some of us mellow with age.
Frank Langella just becomes more of a bastard. On screen, anyway.
In recent years the 74-year-old Langella has had a fine old time playing our least lovable Prez in "Frost/Nixon," an egotistic novelist in "Starting Out in the Evening," an an evil Manhattan real estate magnate in "All Good Things."
In the kinda sci-fi “Robot and Frank” he plays a more conventional crook, but his attitude still says “Don’t mess with me.”
The premise of Christopher D. Ford’s screenplay is quite clever. Frank (Langella) is an ex-con living alone outside a small town. Frank is developing Alzheimer’s and his well-to-do son (James Marsden) buys for the old man a robot — the setting is “the near future” — that can do household chores and will provide Frank with the sort of companionship necessary if he is to keep whatever wits he still has.
Frank does not accept this gift gracefully. He’s pissed that anyone assumes he needs help, much less a hunk of plastic and metal that he claims will probably try to kill him in his sleep.
But after a bit Frank sees new possibilities in his mechanical companion (who hasn’t a name .. .he’s just “Robot”). He decides to resume his old career as a burglar, using Robot to pick locks (he’s a wiz at it), haul loot and stand lookout.
Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) apparently hasn’t been programmed with any sort of moral attitude and obediently does what Frank asks.
Do not think for one moment that Jake Schreier’s film is one of those tear-tugging melodramas about an elderly person finding new friendship and reopening his/her heart. Robot, in fact, keeps reminding Frank that he cannot feel or express emotions. Which is just fine with Frank, who enjoys having his every order followed.
Indeed, Frank hasn’t a sentimental bone in his body. He can barely tolerate his hippie-dippy daughter (Liv Tyler) when she drops for a visit. In fact, the only person for whom he has any affection at all is the local librarian (Susan Sarandon), who has the depressing job of getting rid of all the books so the institution can go 100 percent digital.
“Robot and Frank” is a comedy, I suppose, but a gentle one with quite a few thorns poking out here and there. And while it’s hard to actually like Frank, it’s satisfying to watch him run circles around the law.
This is one codger who isn’t going gently.