Much like the scrappy robot of this film, Brian and Charles is a movie more admirable for its mere functioning than anything else. Slapped together from a short film shot in North Wales, it’s a film that has its heart in the right place even if it can’t quite fire on all cylinders. It’s a stock bit of whimsy but at least never loses sight of where its strengths lie.
The movie adopts the rustic style of a mockumentary format, where a camera crew takes aim at the quiet country life of Brian (David Earl). He fancies himself an inventor although he hasn’t invented anything of much usefulness. His highlights include a pinecone handbag and a plunger with a water bottle attached. His more ambitious projects of a flying clock usually end up in flames (literally). So it’s a bit unlikely that he’d succeed at building a robot.
And yet he does! Cobbled from a bunch of junk, Brian invents the boxy yet functional robot dubbed Charles Petrescu, performed by Chris Hayward and voiced by a computer voice. This miracle of life is never fully explained and honestly, doesn’t need to be. The important thing is that the lonely Brian now has someone to enjoy his life with. Perhaps he’ll even muster the courage to finally talk to his crush Hazel (Louise Brealey) and stand up to his neighboring bully Eddie (Jamie Michie).
The humor here is mostly dry. Brian’s whole bit is that he never quite knows how to transition a conversation or scene, often awkwardly trailing off while trying to make an exit. The comedy between Brian and Charles is at least sweet enough that their simple dynamic carries quite a bit of the picture. The Short Circuit style humor does go through many of the typical motions, where Charles is easily able to speak by reading the dictionary a night and finds himself delighting in Brian’s daily routine.
There’s rarely a breakout moment of laughs beyond the expected simple silliness. The dead-pan nature of Charles’s droning computer voice is funny enough for most of his dialogue. Scenes of him trying to whine about going outside or getting excited when boiling cabbage make for some easy smiles. So much of the absurdity writes itself, where Charles’s attempt at sleeping is just him lying in bed while repeating “I am sleeping” and “I am dreaming.”
This is no Iron Giant or Short Circuit in the sub-genre of “my pet robot.” This is mostly because very little of the humor pierces beyond the bog-standard British comedy so dry you could pick the flakes off. Even the friendship between Brian and Charles, cute as it is at times, starts to grow ho-hum, especially after their brief montage of fun set to the oh-so-easy soundtrack choice of Harry Nilsson’s Best Friend.
Thankfully, the film does have a rather refreshing ending. It ends with a car chase that involves an Inspector Gadget-style do-hickey and a cabbage cannon that saves the day. It’s a pretty pleasing finale considering it still embraces Brian’s non-violent philosophy for resolve and Charles’s desire for adventure. For a film that asks you to suspend a lot of disbelief, it thankfully doesn’t give a backseat to its bigger themes. That being said, it’s a bit disheartening that the likes of Hazel and Eddie are reduced to cookie-cutter archetypes.
Brian and Charles is the little robot movie that could almost topple the hill of sincerity to be a quirky comedy and has enough pluck that you wish it would. Yet the film never quite takes off, merely whirring its gears with a handful of charming scenes that merely reach levels of mild cuteness. Still, there’s a scrappy nature to its simplicity that manages to make the picture more enduring beyond its mechanical pleasantries. It’s hard to say if Charles will take off as much as the likes of Johnny-5 or Iron Giant. One thing is for certain: It may be one of the easier movie robots to cosplay.