In that nebulous time period known as “the near future,” cars will be golf-cart tiny and chamber music will be played on synthesizers. Libraries will be close to extinction. And where once there was a chicken in every pot, there shall now be a bot in every home! Given that Frank (Frank Langella), an elderly jewel thief, is slowly slipping into dementia, his grown kids believe an extra pair of mechanical hands is needed around the house. Enter the generically named Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), a monotone Felix Unger to Frank’s cantankerous Oscar Madison. The old man can’t stand his constant companion, until he notices Robot innocently pilfer some soap in a boutique. A 1,000-watt lightbulb goes on over his head: Frank can teach this bag of bolts to help him do one last primo B&E job.
Having aged gracefully from pretty-boy ingenue to a wizened veteran epitomizing thespian gravitas, Langella could move audiences by reading the phone book aloud. Indeed, it might have been preferable to simply hear the Frost/Nixon actor intone every listed 212 number instead of seeing him prop up this cyberbuddy comedy. The pleasure of watching the star sling barbs at Sarsgaard’s sandpaper-dry android, shyly court sexy librarian Susan Sarandon and rage against geriatric befuddlement doesn’t offset what’s essentially a mediocre character study dipped in sci-fi conventions and Social Security–age sentimentality. A coda shows actual robot prototypes stiffly whizzing around tech labs; compared with the rest of the artificial intelligence on display here, they may be the second-most-lifelike performers in the movie.
Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear