Monday, February 6, 2012

DVD Review: Real Steel

Real Steel ** ½
Directed by: Shawn Levy.
Written by: John Gatins & Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven based on the short story by Richard Matheson.
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Charlie Kenton), Dakota Goyo (Max Kenton), Evangeline Lilly (Bailey Tallet), Anthony Mackie (Finn), Kevin Durand (Ricky), Hope Davis (Aunt Debra), James Rebhorn (Marvin), Marco Ruggeri (Cliff), Karl Yune (Tak Mashido), Olga Fonda (Farra Lemkova).

The concept of replacing human boxers with robot ones isn’t all that farfetched. After all, haven’t we learned by now the physical toll a career as a boxer can have on the human body? Brain injuries are common place for former boxers – so much so, that I have never really been able to enjoy boxing, or other hand to hand combat sports. I can’t help thinking of what they are likely to become later on in life. But with robots, it doesn’t matter how much damage you inflict. After all, robots aren’t human, they can’t feel pain, and if a part breaks, you can simply replace it. The problem I had with Real Steel is that while the idea of robot boxing is actually kind of interesting – and the fight scenes between the robots are the highlight of the movie, expertly choreographed, and not cut to crap like a Michael Bay movie, the story itself is so clichéd ridden and tired, I had a tough time really caring what happened.

The movie stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, once a boxer himself before, like many factory workers, he found himself replaced by machines. He is still involved in the fighting world, and he tours around with his outdated robot looking for fights. But his robot is old – it can’t beat a bull – and when he replaces it, he goes too big too fast, and destroys that one as well.

It should also be mentioned that Charlie is one of the world’s worst fathers. His ex-wife has just died, and that leaves his son Max (Dakota Goyo) with no one to look after him. Charlie hasn’t seen him in years, and doesn’t even know how old he is (when Max says he’s 11, Charlie responds “Are you sure?”). His ex’s sister (Hope Davis) is married to a very rich man (James Rebhorn), and they want to take Max in. Fine by Charlie – but he wants $100,000 to sell his parenting rights, which he gets, but for some reason I never caught or have already forgotten, Max has to spend the summer with Charlie first. And wouldn’t you know it, Max is a huge fan of robot boxing. When they head to a robot junkyard, Max unearths an old sparring robot named Atom – and convinces Charlie that they can rehab him to fight. Eventually, this underdog will work his way up to a title fight. Yes, that’s right, the movie is essentially Rocky with robots.

Hugh Jackman is a charming actor – so much so that you almost forget what a shit father he is. Dakota Goyo is a charming child actor, but like so many movies, Real Steel makes the mistake of pretending that Max is really just a small adult, not an actual kid. Evangaeline Lily is in the movie, I suppose, because a movie like this needs to have a love interest for Charlie, and some pretty eye candy – and that she is.

Real Steel is far from a horrible movie – I even actually enjoyed it for a little while. But the film cannot support its own length – over 2 hours – with its paper thin plot, and after a while, I simply got bored, and wanted to get to where we all knew the film was going to end up from the preview. Yes, the fight scenes are good, and if you go in with low expectations, you may well end up enjoying the film. For me, it never quite came together and became the guilty pleasure it was trying so hard to be.

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