Boxing That Bores 

'Reel Steel' is a robot-fighting movie that needs more grease

Big Hollywood knows that people love movies in which robots kick the oil out of each other. The Transformers films are raking it in—so it would stand to reason that other robot-fight movies would follow.

Directed by Shawn Levy, Real Steel presents a near-future world in which robots have replaced humans in the boxing ring. Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a down-on-his-luck movie stereotype who promotes robot fights—poorly. He owes a lot of people money; his robot is broken; and he has a son, Max, whom he barely knows. That son (Dakota Goyo) winds up in his custody after his ex-wife dies.

So Real Steel wants to be a father-son- bonding movie, as well as a robots-beating-each-other-up movie. Since Jackman's character drives a big truck and is trying to get acquainted with his son, I was reminded of the father-son-bonding/arm-wrestling movie Over the Top.

Over the Top is not a movie I wanted to be reminded of.

While rooting through garbage looking for spare robot parts, Max finds a totally intact robot buried in the dirt. He fixes up the robot and starts teaching it to box—and, regrettably, to dance. The little bratty kid working on a robot reminded me of Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace putting together C-3PO. I'm thinking most people don't want to be reminded of Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace, either.

The movie started to really lose me during the first robot-dancing scene. It looks like the Kia commercial in which robots dance with gerbils—and the robot dancing is much better in the Kia gerbil commercial.

Charlie and Max eventually get their robot into a championship fight. It's hard to get emotionally invested in a battle of robots, so the film has the robot mimicking Charlie's boxing moves just outside of the ring. This way, it's Charlie fighting, sort of—and if Charlie were a character we gave a damn about, this would perhaps result in something slightly more exciting. Since Charlie is a douche, this gimmick does not work.

Evangeline Lilly shows up as a repairer of robots who has a crush on Charlie. I found her participation in the movie distracting, because she is so damned cute, and I just wanted to jump into the screen and pinch her cheek.

Others appearing in the film include Kevin Durand as a rodeo promoter who likes to beat Charlie up. There's also Hope Davis as Max's aunt, who wants to adopt the boy—but, chances are, she will be in the crowd during the final fight scene, rooting for the father-son team.

Jackman is an actor I usually like, but he should stick with his cool Australian accent. In this film, he talks with some strange accent that makes him sound like he should be in a 1930s-Chicago-gangster movie. Why not make his character an Australian immigrant and call it a day?

The movie features a subplot involving underground robot-boxing circuits in which unsavory types gather to bet money on robots that are no longer in their prime. I have a hard time buying a world, even a fantasy world, in which members of the lower class can afford the upkeep on robots to keep them fighting. The voice-activated remote-control thing alone would set them back something like a billion dollars. Now, if crackheads dressed up like robots and slapped the shit out of each other over $5 and a box of doughnuts, that would be a more-likely scenario.

Actually, that sounds like a great movie. I'm writing up a treatment as soon as I fire off this review to my editor.

Real Steel
Rated PG-13 · 127 minutes · 2011
Official Site: steelgetsreal.com
Director: Shawn Levy
Producer: Don Murphy, Susan Montford, Shawn Levy, Jack Rapke, Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey, Steven Spielberg, Mary McLaglen and Josh McLaglen
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Karl Yune and Olga Fonda


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Boise Weekly The Projector: Movies opening Friday, Oct. 7 Werner Herzog reveals ancient cave art; Ryan Gosling reveals his selfish interests to George Clooney; Hugh Jackman reveals his robotic boxing underdog; Henry Hopper reveals his love for Mia Wasikowska. It's all at the movies. by Garrett Horstmeyer 10/07/2011
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Indy Week Fighting robots and Spielberg's daddy issues in Real Steel After a while, the fighting scenes feel like a reward you get every 10 minutes for sitting through the movie's incessantly sappiness. by Craig D. Lindsey 10/05/2011
Creative Loafing Atlanta Hollywood Product: Real Steel Hugh Jackman's rock 'em sock 'em robot has too much mettle by Edward Adams 10/06/2011
The Coast Halifax Real heart in Real Steel Robo-boxing movie a knock-out by Matthew Morgan 10/06/2011
NUVO Ed reviews 'Real Steel' Take a high-calorie Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Rocky, add a dollop of The Champ, roll it up in panko Transformers crumbs and you'll get 'Real Steel.' by Ed Johnson-Ott 10/07/2011
Portland Mercury You Knocked My Block Off! Real Steel neither rocks nor rocks our block off. by Wm. Steven Humphrey 10/06/2011

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