'Robot and Frank' review: Not your average crime story

Liv TylerFrank LangellaSusan SarandonRobot and Frank (movie)

*** (out of four)

Hunter (James Marsden) tries to help his dad Frank (Frank Langella) by giving him a robot. Dad’s not having it: “Back off,” Frank says to the short, metallic assistant with the voice of Peter Sarsgaard, “you little astronaut bastard.”

As is often the case with movie relationships that begin on a bitter foot, Frank and his robot develop an unlikely friendship, especially when Frank, who insists that he does not have memory problems, realizes he can train the robot to help him with his favorite pastime, robbery. Lock-picking that would require countless hours from a human can happen in a snap when the thief processes and tests number combinations faster than a person could even think of them. Robot doesn’t care about the profits; he’s just following his program, which dictates that he assist Frank.

Conveniently, Robot has no opinions on the law.

A sleek sense of near-futuristic cool suits this funny, minor charmer (co-starring Susan Sarandon and Liv Tyler) more than a broad, absurdist tone that filters in due to Frank’s emerging rivalry with Jake (Jeremy Strong, overdoing it). Aside from the advanced robot technology and its availability, this world resembles our current one in that our brains can often be complicated liars.

In a traditionally excellent, subtle performance, Langella embodies a man recapturing his purpose and discovering a bond with a machine stronger than any he’s had with flesh and blood for a while.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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