Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Real Steel

Directed by Shawn Levy.
2011. Rated PG-13, 127 minutes.
Hugh Jackman
Dakota Goyo
Evangeline Lilly
Anthony Mackie
Kevin Durand
Hope Davis
James Rebhorn
Karl Yune
Olga Fonda

Charlie (Jackman) is a former prize-fighter who now makes his living in the world of robot boxing. Making a living is overstating things. Generally, he ducks the people he owes money to after whatever robot he’s picked off the scrap heap gets destroyed in a match. Along comes news that an ex-girlfriend, and mother of his child has passed away, leaving behind Max (Goyo), the son he’s abandoned. The kid’s wealthy aunt Debra (Davis) wants custody but needs Charlie to sign over his parental rights. Never one to miss an opportunity, Charlie brokers a deal with Deb’s husband Marvin (Rebhorn) to sell them his rights for a load of cash. One strange caveat to the deal: in order to keep Debra in the dark about the exchange of money, Charlie has to keep Max for a few weeks while his rich soon-to-be guardians are out of the country.

Once Max actually appears we know precisely how it will play out between him and his deadbeat dad. Ditto for Charlie and Bailey (Lilly) and their very PG love affair. The only possible surprise isn’t one if you’ve seen the trailer. It involves Atom, a seemingly inferior fighting robot with a very unique feature. Suffice it to say this part of the story is yet another re-working of Rocky. It comes complete with a physically superior champion and his villainous handlers.

If it isn’t obvious, there is pretty much no effort put into the plot. It’s completely perfunctory, taking no risks, holding no surprises nor posing any challenges. In a brief moment or two of artistic integrity, the filmmakers threaten to throw one wrinkle into things. We get a couple hints that there is more to Atom than meets the eye. Yes, the reference is intended. Anyhoo, they totally drop the ball on that idea to remain in the safety zone, give us more of the cheese borrowed from other cheesy flicks. In short, they want you to like this movie even though you’ve likely seen it quite a few times before.

Predictability be damned, there is only one real question to be answered: is Real Steel fun to watch. The answer is yes, in its own corny way. It moves at a brisk pace despite an unnecessarily bloated runtime of over two hours. It plays cute with the father/son angle and the final act contains lots more of the ‘bot fighting people likely come for. Jackman gives us Wolverine-lite, a less surly than the mutant and sans cigar. It’s a character we know and either somewhat like or somewhat dislike. The same can be said of Max and every other character in the film. By the way, Max is more of an adult than any of the other characters, too. Even my nine year old picked up on that. Max’s maturity aside, all of these people are just bland caricatures. They’re here to fill in the portions between fights not be too much of a distraction from them. The end result is an overwhelmingly OK movie that young boys will love watching with their dads. Boys of my age will wonder how it is possible that this isn’t called Rock’em Sock’em Robots.

MY SCORE: 5/10

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