Critics are often asked if they ever walk out of movies. I make a point not to, being compelled to review movies as a whole. A film that starts on the wrong foot can still end on a high note. Of course, that philosophy works both ways. If you asked me halfway through Brian and Charles if I’d recommend the picture, it’d be an enthusiastic yes. The main characters are lovable, the filmmaking techniques are inventive, and the familiar tropes are given a fresh twist. In its second half, though, the characters begin to lose their charm and those tropes deteriorate into cheap clichés. Unfortunately, I can’t review movies in halves, and sometimes you’re just stuck with a mixed bag.
David Earl is endearing as Brian, a socially awkward inventor who lives to make things. Even when his inventions are failures (and they usually are) he finds such joy in the creation process. One day, he almost randomly decides to build a robot. Being so isolated in his cluttered home, Charles is likely desperate for companionship. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Brian’s robot is the visual embodiment of this statement, being held together by a washing machine, a manikin, and other spare parts. The design possesses a childlike sensibility, as if Charles threw together the first random pieces he laid his eyes on. This makes it all the more hilarious when the robot inexplicably works.
Charles Hayward voices Charles Petrescu, the naive robot with an unusual affinity for cabbage. It doesn’t take long for Charles’ youthful wonder to evolve into a teenage need to rebel. For all the trouble Charles causes Brian, he does help the inventor come out of his shell. Brian even works up the courage to converse with fellow introvert Hazel (Louise Brealey), who lives with her mother. As likable as these characters are, they’re overshadowed by Eddie (Jamie Michie), a one-dimensionally written bully who wishes to enslave and destroy Charles. Why? No reason. He’s just a jerk devoid of humor. His entrance is where the film goes downhill.
Not too long ago, I rewatched another film about a human and a robot: The Iron Giant. Although that film also had a villain, his motivations were understandable and he could be surprisingly funny. Eddie is simply mean-spirited for the sake of mean-spiritedness with zero redeeming qualities. Granted, there are people like this, but you wouldn’t want to spend time with them in real life. Why would you want to spend half a movie watching them? It may sound like I’m dwelling on one problem with the film, but Eddie alone brings the second half to a halt. While his eventual comeuppance is satisfying, it comes far too late.
Director Jim Archer based Brian and Charles on his 12-minute short of the same name. Some may argue that this idea is better suited for a short subject, but there was potential for a feature. Throughout the film, Charles expresses his desire to visit Honolulu. This pays off in the final act, but why couldn’t this have been the movie? Instead of being stuck in Wales where Brian hides Charles and Eddie torments him, why couldn’t this movie’s second half have taken the characters to Honolulu? We’ve seen countless other projects that follow this movie’s formula, but we’ve never seen one about a robot’s Hawaiian vacation. For a film that starts in such an innovative way, Brian and Charles settles for being another A.I. movie. It’s a shame, as that first half is so delightful. While I can only give the film itself two stars, it’d be worthy of another if it ended at 40 minutes.