Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Robot and Frank = Abort Fond Rank [Robot & Frank (2012)]

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Frank Weld used to be a burglar.  He’s what’s called a second-story man.  (Basically, he’d try to gain entry using unconventional means, like through a second-story window.)  He’s retired now and somewhat forgetful.  He can remember where he lives, but seems to forget that a favorite restaurant of his closed and is now a beauty shop.  His son, Hunter, visits every week, but is worried about him.  Enter, Robot, an unnamed robot that’s meant to serve as Frank’s personal assistant.

Yes, robots are usually given names, but Frank is understandably upset about his gift.  He doesn’t want this machine telling him what to eat, when to wake up and how to spend his free time.  This changes when Frank realizes that Robot knows the law, but doesn’t understand it.  He can define breaking and entering, but doesn’t realize that he’s not supposed to do it.  This means that Frank can use Robot to break into a library and steal a book.

You wouldn’t think that a book would be worth stealing, even if it is an antique copy of Don Quixote, but the library is being made into a community center.  (The movie is set in the near future; books have become obsolete.)  He wants to steal it to impress the librarian, Jennifer.  Frank and Robot go on to burglarize the home of a pretentious developer and his wife.  This draws the attention of the police, mostly because the developer doesn’t seem to like Frank.  It’s up to Frank and Robot to do what they can to foil the police.

When I saw the page for the movie on Netflix, I figured it was one of these odd-couple buddy-type movies where the two grow closer to each other, or at least Frank comes to accept the robot.  Robot points out several times that he’s really the sum of his programming.  Anything else is in service to his primary directive of keeping Frank healthy.  (This leads to a dilemma: Does Frank wipe Robot’s memory or risk getting caught?)

There’s also the issue of worrying about a parent that has deteriorating health.  Frank’s memory is going.  Hunter doesn’t like the prospect of leaving his father home alone, but the alternative is a ‘brain center’, which is basically a nice way of saying nursing home for people with mental issues.  The solution is Robot, but even that has issues.  Frank’s daughter, Madison, has moral objections to having robotic help.

I found the premise to be very interesting.  It’s a problem that we’ve all had to worry about if we have older relatives, making the story relatable.  Frank’s memory loss isn’t to the point where he’s a joke.  It’s not a string of forgetful-old-man jokes.  Also, the robot does seem to mimic human behavior quite well, to the point that you can accept it as a character.  When Frank leans back against a wall to avoid being seen, Robot does the same.  It also has the ability to learn what Frank likes and is even able to negotiate.  Robot is aware that Frank may be caught and sent to prison, but is also aware that his cognitive health is getting better now that he has purpose.

There’s also not a lot of futuristic stuff.  Frank lives in a normal house with some moderately advanced technology.  (He has a flat-screen TV with the ability to have a video conference.  Cell phones look like transparent iPhones.)  It doesn’t try to oversell us on the futuristic stuff.  The two recurring reminders of that are the presence of the robot and the looming absence of the library.

I think most of all, it’s a simple story.  If you’re looking for something without a lot going on or things you might miss, this is a good movie to watch.  I’d like to get a friend or relative to watch this only because I’d like to talk about it with someone.  There are aspects of the ending that might leave you wondering. 

Official Site (Japan)

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