Robot & Frank is sentimental high-concept fluff that works. It’s set in a not-so-distant future (which looks like the present except there are funny cars and robots) and stars Frank Langella, who is such a fantastic actor that he couldn’t hit a false note in a Windex commercial. He plays a lonely old man named Frank who is losing his memory and spends his time puttering around his cozy, messy home in Cold Spring, N.Y. Frank is depressed, but he’s also a former cat burglar who served years in prison and hasn’t lost his wily, amoral spirit. When his adult children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) buy him a robot housekeeper, he’s annoyed at first, but then he makes the droid his assistant, using him as a partner on late-night burglaries.
The robot looks like a retro version of a space-age contraption from the 1960s, and he sounds a lot like HAL from 2001 (Peter Sarsgaard does his voice). Yet he never starts to say witty things or develop a personality. He really is a machine, programmed in every response. He and Frank become friends because neither of them can quite connect to anyone else. Langella brings the film a gruff magic, drying out what might have been a tritely annoying buddy movie. Robot & Frank putters along, sort of like Frank, but it also delighted and touched me. B+