Set in the near-future, Frank Langella plays an aging former cat burglar, who isn’t quite ‘former’ yet. He lives on his own, seems to be heading towards dementia and refuses to admit that he can no longer properly look after himself. His long-suffering, family man son (James Marsden) buys Frank a new robot helper to do the various household tasks, allowing Frank the chance to relax a bit. This robot, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard is initially met coldly by the curmudgeonly Frank, but it’s not long before Frank (who has already served two prison terms, once for tax evasion) has enlisted the robot’s help in planning a new jewel heist. The robot hasn’t been programmed for law and order, so it can’t really turn Frank in, merely try to encourage him towards other, less dangerous pursuits. Meanwhile, Frank starts a relationship with a local librarian (Susan Sarandon), whose store is set to be modernised thanks to rich yuppie Jeremy Strong, a techno tycoon and neighbour who eyes Frank and the robot with suspicion. Frank’s eyes are more fixated on the jewels contained inside Strong’s house. Liv Tyler plays Frank’s globe-trotting, charity-working daughter who hates the robot.
I’m guessing it was a shitty year at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival that saw this sci-fi/caper/geriatric drama hybrid played. First-time feature director Jake Schreier and the actors do their best, but I was immediately and irreconcilably distanced by the very plot devised by writer Christopher D. Ford (also a debutant who might just remain as such). This is a well-made idiotic film that I just couldn’t swallow. A geriatric cat burglar rigs his robot carer so that it’ll help him on a jewel heist? On the list of terrible movie ideas, well this one’s certainly on it. Adult-oriented robot movies can be a tricky thing to pull off, and whilst this isn’t as moronic as “Runaway”, it’s far too silly to warrant the participation of so many fine actors, let alone my attention. The best thing I can say is that it wasn’t nearly as stupid or awful as it looked from the trailers.
It wasn’t just the robot/jewel heist thing that repelled me, however. A near-future society where robots exist and are extremely sophisticated, but libraries still exist? Um...no, maybe if this were Japanese it’d work, but I wasn’t buying it. True, the film gets around to showing us that technology is starting to make libraries obsolete, but a) That’s not even really a near-future concept, it’s the here and now, and b) If it hasn’t already been done to death in movies, it sure feels like it. So the film is too old-hat yet too implausibly futuristic at the same time (I’m sure the Japanese have had robot servants for decades, but it’s hardly widespread, let alone as sophisticated as this).
The other problem the film has and isn’t able to overcome, is that its lead character is pretty much unlikeable, through no fault of the very fine Frank Langella. This guy treats his well-meaning son horribly (What supposedly uncaring son would travel five hours every week away from their own kids to visit their dad?), and he also basically intends to steal from a character the audience really likes. Yes, he’s doing it for what he considers a good cause, but then he decides on a jewel heist and his motives aren’t nearly as easy to rationalise.
I’m sorry, but this film just doesn’t come off. And that’s a shame because the cast is game, and there’s definitely something here about a lonely old man slowly slipping into dementia. That’s something a lot of people will relate to. The rest is for the birds. Everyone involved here deserves better, this story was never going to be turned into a good film, it’s too infantile, not to mention predictable as hell. Meanwhile, the big twist could’ve been great except it actually doesn’t add up when you look back over character interactions. In order to conceal the twist (which some may pick anyway), some fudging had to be done. Then again, the idea of James Marsden and Liv Tyler being Frank Langella’s kids seemed a bit of a stretch to me to begin with. In reality it’s plausible, but Tyler looks much younger than her 35 years (and far too beautiful to be Steven Tyler’s daughter now I think of it) and more like Langella’s granddaughter. Langella actually looks too old for the part, but Clint Eastwood is older and played a cat burglar in “Absolute Power”, so what do I know? Tyler, by the way, is far too sweet and lovely to play Langella’s well-meaning, but self-absorbed, well-travelled daughter.
I loved that Sarandon’s robot helper was named Mr. Darcy, but other than that, this is a well-acted movie serving a seriously dopey idea I could never take seriously. I also absolutely do not want a robot servant voiced by Peter Sarsgaard. That’d be about as reassuring as a GPS voiced by John Malkovich.