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Movie Review: Robot & Frank

Among the older generation of screen actors, Bayonne, N.J. born Frank Langella is a giant, and he is the only reason to see "Robot & Frank," an other-wise gimmicky, well-cast, second-tier comedy-drama about an aging cat burglar whose son (James Marsden) insists his father get help or be placed in a "Memory Center."

Because the film is set in the "near future," that "help" comes in the form of a robot (voice of Peter Sarsgaard) with a white body and black faceplate that looks like a cross between a pint-sized Apollo astronaut and the immortal Wall*E with a voice vaguely reminiscent of HAL 9000 of "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Frank's memory problems have recently made him burgle his own rural New York state home, so he eventually, if reluctantly, agrees to use the robot to cook and clean and remind him of things.

Frank also has a crush on a younger local librarian (Susan Sarandon in a small, but crucial role), whose library is about to be disassembled, digitized and closed.

Of course, (I'm humming "The Impossible Dream" as I write this sentence) if there is a valuable edition worthy of being stolen from the library by Frank, it's going to be "Don Quixote."

Frank also has a daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), who is some sort of global trekker/do-gooder who keeps an eye on her dad via Skype.

After failing to find an "Off" switch, Frank resigns himself to being one half of a futuristic "Odd Couple," living with a short, mild-mannered Felix Ungar-ish digital "butler" whose servos whiz audibly when it moves (a serious disadvantage for an aspiring robot thief). Yes, Frank recruits the bot to help him steal diamonds belonging to the "rich yuppie" (Jeremy Strong of "The Good Wife") who ridiculed Frank and is closing the town library.

Blessed with an artistry bordering on magic, Academy Award nominee Langella ("Frost/Nixon") can indeed put on a quite a show even if his co-star is not human. Notably, both Frank and the robot face issues concerning memory, and Sarsgaard gives the robot more than a hint of poignancy, while Langella deftly gaps the bridge between an aware Frank and Frank when he is lost inside his past. While the idea that Frank would figure out a criminal "angle" concerning his new "partner" makes perfect sense if you know any criminals, the screenplay by TV veteran Christopher D. Ford misses several opportunities, and direction by newcomer Jake Schreier is strictly routine, although the final scenes are nicely elegiac.

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