‘Brian and Charles’: This quirky robot story tinkers too much

“Brian and Charles” (2022) – “It’s alive!” – Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) in “Frankenstein” (1931)

Meet Brian! 

Brian (David Earl) is a 40-something bachelor.  He lives in a modest home on spacious acreage in North Wales.  He’s an isolated soul but acts quite chipper, most likely to cover up his loneliness.  However, Brian is pretty darn eager to show off his work.  He’s an inventor but not in a lucrative tech business, nor does he own scores of million-dollar patents. 

Think Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), the dad in “Gremlins” (1984).  Remember every “gizmo” that Rand constructed was either wrapped with eccentricities or didn’t operate correctly after hitting the ON switch.  Brian might be Rand’s long-lost nephew from across the pond because his innovations follow a similar pattern, such as his pinecone bag and flying cuckoo clock. 

Look, the clock doesn’t exactly fly, and our protagonist may be a bit cuckoo, but Brian’s a kindhearted fella. 

One day, his ambition and skillset merge into far-out science fiction terrain.  He creates a robot!  A walking, talking robot that stands about seven and a half feet tall with a washing machine for a chest.  Its (or his) name is Charles, who sports a bow tie, a blue button-down shirt, a brown sweater, khakis, shoes, a human-like latex face, some gray locks, and a pair of glasses.  

Meet Charles!  He’s one day old.

Brian (David Earl) and Charles (Chris Hayward)

Director Jim Archer and writers David Earl and Chris Hayward (who plays the aforementioned mechanical being) tell this 2022 odd-couple story. “Brian and Charles” is a full-length feature based on their 2017 short. Archer, Earl, and Hayward’s comedy is a 90-minute mockumentary, as Brian sometimes looks and talks to the camera. 

Cinematographer Murren Tullett – who worked with Archer on the TV series “Down from London” (2019) – nicely captures the pastoral landscape that one might expect in Wales.  Green pastures, gray skies, and quiet living resemble similar scenes in Upstate New York, Michigan, or Ohio in early fall or spring. 

The film’s opening 10 minutes or so feature the funniest moments, as the awfully likable Brian proudly shows off his inventions around his property.  The effect soothes the audience into the movie’s oddball dynamic but then knocks us about with the emergence of our entrepreneur’s newest creation, who can also double as his friend! 

Brian (Earl) and Charles (Hayward)

Charles is a curious sort.  He has a childlike mind and an endless learning capacity with a speedy penchant for absorbing information.  Charles speaks with the metallic cadence of the old Speak & Spell electronic game and can seemingly read an entire dictionary faster than you can utter, “Hey, Charles, why don’t you pick up the ol’ Merriam-Webster.” 

(Well, not that fast, but you get the idea.)

Although the movie kicks off and hums for a good 30 minutes as an eccentric comedic film, the tone changes into more “Frankenstein” spaces during the last 50 or so minutes, as Charles twists into a monster of a headache. 

No, our professor-looking android doesn’t accidentally drown a girl in a lake, but he’s not exactly humorous, either.  After a short while, Brian’s praise and pride for his beloved new buddy turn to dire concern.  The consequences of successfully constructing a sentient being are painfully apparent.  Charles isn’t uber-thrilled lingering around his creator’s farm, especially when he learns about faraway places like Honolulu.

Their friendly relationship becomes a parent-child state of affairs, and the kid can be a petulant one.

Instead of our congenial protagonist bearing the fruits of his miraculous work, brand-new stressors enter his world when Charles threatens to leave.  Brian might be living solo again, but the unhealthier scenario is that outside forces could discover Charles. 

Can you imagine the attention, and what would become of our metal friend? 

Charles (Hayward) and Brian (Earl)

For some reason, the quirky humor tends to fade as the narrative strangely wanders into a conflict with a local bully (Jamie Michie).  The movie takes unexpected roads on both a redemption arc and a hero’s journey, and the cinematic pathways don’t exactly return to the pleasant, fun beginnings. 

Now, Earl and Hayward’s script introduces Hazel (Louise Brealey), a sweet local interested in Brian and vice-versa.  Brian and Hazel get along swimmingly, but I wanted more time with these two treading into light banter and gentle courtship rather than the film’s direction into strident conflict with other parties. 

Oh well, “Brian and Charles” has intriguing wiring and connections, but I think this robot story tinkers too much.

⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Brian and Charles – Movie Review

Directed by:  Jim Archer

Written by:  David Earl and Chris Hayward

Starring:  David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey, and Jamie Michie

Runtime:  90 minutes

Rated: PG

Image credits: Focus Features

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