(On Cable TV, December 2018) There have been quite a few movies about the American presidency, but few of them as cutely romantic as Dave, in which a presidential impersonator gets the job on a long-term basis when the real president is medically incapacitated. The plot is familiar from there, but the real fun of the picture has to be seeing Kevin Kline in a dual role, with Sigourney Weaver as the wife who suspects that something is afoot, and Frank Langella as the villain trying to take over the United States through an unwitting patsy. Ving Rhames and Laura Linney also show up in smaller early roles. Oliver Stone has a funny cameo. Clearly, director Ivan Reitman is aiming more for a feel-good romantic fantasy than a hard-edged political thriller, especially given how the film plays with the idea of the everyday man replacement being better in all aspects of the job than the original. There’s an interesting comparison to be made here with near-contemporary The American President, but also with the classic idealistic films by Frank Capra, in which he took pleasure in scrutinizing the American political system to reveal the good intentions underneath it. Dave is a lightweight comedy, but a charming one, and certainly a welcome antidote to the kinds of heavier thrillers that the American presidency usually invites.
(On Cable TV, July 2013) At a time when most Hollywood Science Fiction blockbusters seem to be exercises in over-the-top action and densely dazzling visuals with little left for heart and compassion, it’s good to find an antidote in the form of a low-key SF comedy. Here, five minutes in the future, an aging robber reluctantly forms a bond with his newly-imposed robotic assistant, to the extent of recruiting his new buddy for one last score. Filmed with a surprisingly low budget, Robot & Frank even dispenses with extensive special effects work by using a simple robot suit worn by dancer Rachael Ma: it’s a film about relationships and subtle ideas, not really about spectacular visuals. Frank Langella is essential to the film as the protagonist with a troubled past: he anchors the film in a believable reality and effectively acts as a foil to the entire cast as they all seem determined to do what’s best for him. Meanwhile, Susan Sarandon is lovely as an aging librarian who becomes the object of his affection, and Liv Tyler makes the most out of limited screen-time as a daughter who learns better. Much of the film is a slow burn, executed with calm and confidence. It does builds up to an effective moral dilemma, though, and its exploration of memory (the tragedy of losing it, but also the curse of remembering everything) is as subtle as any film about aging could hope to feature. While some late-film twists and revelations fail to convince, much of Robot & Frank remains charming in its own quiet way. One of the best things about the mainstreaming of Science Fiction and the greater availability of filmmaking tools is that SF movies can now reflect a variety of viewpoints. The blockbusters are here to stay, thankfully, but it’s good to know that there’s something else out there.