Dave's Rating:

2.0

This is not the droid you're looking for.

Frank (Frank Langella) is a retired cat burglar whose advancing years and slowly encroaching dementia require that either he live in a nursing home or accept the intrusion of a VGC-60L model health care robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) into his home. The bot is designed to take care of Frank's daily activities as well as his eating and sleeping habits, making sure that he maintains a schedule that will bolster his ability to remember what's going on around him. Frank stubbornly resists at first but his son (James Marsden) insists.

On the continuum of robot friendship coolness the VGC-60L isn't in the same league as R2-D2, C-3PO, Tom Servo, Crow, The Jetsons' maid Rosie or Pee-Wee's Playhouse's Conky. On the other hand, he's also not as irritating as VICKI from Small Wonder. He's just a service machine and his service is polite and efficient. As performed by Sarsgaard, he's sort of like a walking, talking, dinner-preparing HAL 9000 before it turned mean.

Frank lives in his memory mostly, a glorious, nighttime past of glamorous crime. And though he enjoys the beautiful, old local library and its head librarian (Susan Sarandon) he resents everything else about the present, especially all the young, forward-thinking jerks who happily destroy the institution's books in order to turn the place into a digital information-dispensing coffee emporium. He also resents not being able to steal high-end merch like in the old days, when he hurt nobody except "those insurance company crooks." So it's back to burgling he goes, this time with a very polite and efficient helper. First stop: rare library books.

Langella in any film, even a bad one, is a pleasure to watch. He always brings a ready-made supply of dignity and grace to his work (even when half his face is eaten off like in The Box). And any film that deals with the troubles facing people as they age is at least theoretically one to put in the plus column. This one is tender and sweet, gentle and kind, and that's fine, but that's also pretty much all it is. You won't find any of the romantic grief of Sarah Polley's Julie Christie-starring drama Away From Her, the mounting sadness and existential mourning of Akira Kurosawa's end-of-life meditation Ikiru or the brutal, no-safety-net realism of Vittoria De Sica's Umberto D. As stories of aging go, it's as lightweight as a very special Alzheimer's-themed episode of Golden Girls, a high-concept senior revenge fantasy.

Even the satirical elements about technology stripping away the human side of culture, the tyranny of efficiency, the "improvements" that never feel as good as the old-fashioned way of accessing experience, are less striking or pointed as they should be, the characters committing those crimes walk away scot-free. Instead the shrugging happy-enough-ever-after with Pops in a luxury nursing home will have to do, with a side of half-poignant, machines-as-friends irony. It's enough to make you want to hit DELETE.

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