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.

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