Thursday, October 6, 2011
How do you bring emotion to a story about robot boxing? Cheesy father-son drama, for starters. Making the story a shameless Rocky rip-off, for another. No doubt director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) had the best intentions when trying to bring heart to Real Steel, but the fact remains it’s hard to root for a robot without feelings, and as a result the movie hits with a loud, metallic thud.
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a loser. He’s a washed-up former boxer who now operates in the world of robot boxing, in which he remotely controls robots as they beat the steel out of each other. He’s not good at this either, and owes a great deal of money to a great deal of people. Then his ex-girlfriend dies and he has to care for his son Max (Dakota Goyo), a little snot who certainly has his father’s stubbornness.
After a series of poor decisions they find Atom in a scrap yard. Atom is a sparring robot – designed to take hits as practice for real fighting robots, but not dish them out – so Charlie immediately disregards Atom’s potential. But as is often the case with down-and-out losers in sappy stories such as this, Atom surprises and rises up the ranks, thanks in part to a “shadow” function that allows Charlie to perform the boxing moves. Will this be Charlie’s chance to make it to the top? Will Atom defeat the unbeatable Zeus? Will Charlie bond with his son? It’s a sad reality that we never really give a damn.
To its credit the near-future setting looks stylish, even if the clothes 10 years from now happen to match the fashion sense of today. Jackman does what he can with John Gatins’ limited script, but there’s only so much hunky charm he can bring to redeem a lost cause. Evangeline Lilly is fine but underused as Charlie’s old flame, and Goyo, who played the Young Thor in Thor last summer, can’t help but be annoying because Max is annoying. Poor Goyo never had a chance.
To make the boxing authentic the filmmakers brought in former world champion Sugar Ray Leonard and used motion capture animation, in which actors/boxers donned skintight suits and had their movements recorded into a computer. Those movements then became the animated robots’, and although you certainly feel the impact as they strike one another it gets redundant after a short while.
Of course, we also know exactly what’s going to happen because the story is lifted straight from Rocky. In fact, the movie plays like a bad dream that combines Rocky and the old Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game. If you don’t know what that is, go track it down or find the old commercials on YouTube – guaranteed that’ll be more entertaining than this tired, predictable movie.
REAL STEEL (1½) Directed by Shawn Levy •Starring Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly • Rated PG-13 • 127 min •At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas.