There’s something in the movie script formula department that clearly strikes a nerve, especially when it comes to kids movies. It seems you can engineer anything so long as it combines the following elements: a young protagonist; a secret to keep from adults; a problem that only they can solve; and an interchangeable ‘x’ factor.
F.R.E.D.I slots the well worn jigsaw ‘talking and friendly robot’ piece into the x factor gap. Stolen and hidden by its creator who fears misuse by the military, F.R.E.D.I. is a friendly robot programmed to help those in need. Discovered by James, a local teenager hunting for topics to write about for a school science paper, the pair form a bond which comes under threat as F.R.E.D.I. is hunted down. Even worse, F.R.E.D.I’s battery gets drained the more it does, and once it hits 0% its internal containment will fail, causing a massive explosion that threatens to take out half the town.
If you think this sounds like the plot to E.T. then you’d be right. Notwithstanding that many movies trail in the wake left by the game changing success of E.T., F.R.E.D.I tries to add a bit of pathos with a sub-plot involving divorce. James lives with his father but is faced with having to move house as the family business isn’t paying the bills. Of course there’s also a bit of love interest going on with James struggling to express his attraction to fellow high-schooler, Natalie (who is being tutored by his best friend, Danny).
F.R.E.D.I is low budget in the worst sense of the word. Not just that the locations and cast are limited or that the special effects used to animate F.R.E.D.I veer from passable to laughable (the robot is clearly being waggled by someone below shot most of the time), but that there is nothing in the script to engage any part of human emotion. The aforementioned divorce area is cause for a few typical teenager / father conversations, but even among the main teenage cast there are so few sparks flying that nothing is in danger of catching fire here.
The movie is clearly marketed at a younger audience of pre-teens and children because filling out the gaps where character engagement should be is the obvious star of the show, F.R.E.D.I herself. With a pleasing neutral tone and occasional comedy misunderstanding of what is needed, the robot is any small child’s wish fulfilment. It can hover, shoot anti-gravity beams, help James to perform skateboard tricks, heal human injuries, and even become invisible. We’re not talking Baymax from Big Hero 6 or Wall-E levels of charm here, but certainly the friendly design and various powers will hook younger viewers.
In truth F.R.E.D.I. is one of those inoffensive made for TV style movies that does nothing particularly wrong, but just feels like little effort has been made beyond a script with a Post-It marked ‘make cute robot film’ stuck on the front. Nasty corporate bad guy Angus Macfadyen (whom you may recognise as Robert The Bruce from Braveheart) does the usual finger pointing and shouting without adding any flavour to stand out, although his berating of staff is enough for a few chuckles. James (Lucius Hoyos) emotes enough to lead the movie even if nothing particularly taxing is ever asked of him.
F.R.E.D.I is one for a family watch where you can get other stuff done whilst the kids enjoy. Just hope it doesn’t become a favourite because multiple viewings may drain your own internal battery to the point of explosion.
Words by Mike Record