Saturday, March 30, 2013

Robot and Frank

I've been a robot fiction devotee since I read Asimov's I, Robot as a kid.  His Robots of Dawn is still in my top 5 novels evar.  Thus, I will see about any movie that has robots in it.

TLD: For example, I tried to watch the Jean Claude Van Dammit flick Cyborg recently, and just couldn't hang with it past 15 minutes.  Oh well. 

Finally carved out the hour and a half to see Robot and Frank.  I ended up enjoying it by the third act because they finally tap into the built-in pathos robot stories seem to have, but it started sloooow.

I mean, the robot arrives about 10 or 15 minutes in so we get to the story quickly enough, but there are quite a few first-time director/film school mistakes like one scene involving a car driving past us, down the road, and around the bend, but with a funky/showy low angle (for what amounts to no reason). Why are such shots ever included in a flick? If you need to pad the run-time, do it with something unique to the movie, or at least with a character doing something.  And, hey, if you have a robot as a character, perhaps watching the robot do things would've been a better way to use up that minute of our lives.  They also telegraph a heavy foreshadowing that does not pay off, which makes me wonder if during a script revision the payoff was removed and no one noticed. 

As I watched, I suspected that the person in the robot suit was a child from the movements, and frankly, the choreography was lacking, or the actor (puppeteer?) did not have enough practice time.  You can actually see the actor move from a typical human resting pose to an Asimo-like stance when he (it's voiced by a man, so we assume "he") prepares to walk.  Come to find out it's a female dancer in there, which surprises me, since most dancers take movement seriously.  An interview with the director reveals that for a couple days of the 20-day shoot, there was in fact a male child in the suit, so perhaps those were his scenes.  But, folks, if you're gonna make a robot movie, the robot's movements have got to be right, or it stands out like a mis-painted frame in an animation.

Outside of the flawed, puppet-like movement, the robot is a charming character. Deeply contrary to Asimov's robot rules, which most fans take as rote, this robot does not have a strict moral compass outside of caring for his charge.  There are hints he wouldn't physically harm anyone, but he has no problems with helping Frank resume his primary occupation as a thief. 

The movie itself is non-committal about the fact that Frank is a career crook. We even learn he was a bad father and his wife left him years ago.  The personality he presents in the film presents no reason to like him, either. 

This greatly diminished the film for me.  If I'm going to watch a movie about criminals, bad guys, anti-heros, etc., the movie needs to somehow let me know that it knows they're the bad guys, too, and none of us are OK with that.  Or the guy has to be so charming, we believe anyone would care about him, etc. etc.  But here we're presented with a grouchy, bland jerk in his decline.  Perhaps that's why the title is Robot and Frank and not the other way around.

No comments: