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Overall Rating
2.68

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 4.55%
Just Average: 31.82%
Pretty Crappy54.55%
Sucks: 0%

3 reviews, 4 user ratings


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Real Steel
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by Erik Childress

"Not A Knockout, A Punch To The Heart Or The Real Deal"
2 stars

The ability for movies to surprise is an all too infrequent occurrence in this age of remade originality and accelerated marketing that leaves little to our in-the-moment imagination. The best of such surprises is when a film can take a disbeliever and subvert their expectations, even if it results in the most minimal of recommendations. Take Real Steel for example, a film about robot boxing. Take a moment and let that sink in. The only way the human mind would not immediately compute that this is the dumbest idea ever is because it is not actually called Percy Jackson and the Real Steel. What may surprise viewers is that this is not just Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie but an adaptation of a Richard Matheson short story ("Steel") featured on a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone. That is where most viewers over the age of 12 will feel they have stepped into as this confused, unambitious piece of futurama is weighed down by Shawn Levy's uninspired and limp direction.

Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) was once a contender in the boxing ring, but now manages the giant pieces of metal that have replaced them. Managing is a loose term. He powers them up and controls their movements with a remote while screaming commands at them that he knows they cannot hear. Charlie is not exactly getting his property (more on that later) the best matches either as he watches his latest take a beating at a carnival putting him further in debt with cowboy Ricky (Kevin Durand). With barely enough money to help his friend and former trainer's daughter, Bailey (Evangeline Lilly), save her dad's gym or purchase another robot, heaven reaches out to him. Or at least his ex-girlfriend, who has died, and left behind Charlie's 11 year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo). Charlie sees a payday in the meal ticket of his ex's sister (Hope Davis) and goads him into paying him 100 grand to sign over custody to them under condition he gets to spend the summer with him.

Max is not exactly happy about missing out on a European vacation in the wake of mom's death, but perks up when he sees dad's involvement in robot fighting. While looking for junkyard parts, Max nearly falls to his death but is saved by the outstretched arm of a robot buried in the mud. Reversing the ancient mantra of a saved life now the responsibility of the hero, Max digs up the robot and proceeds to get it running. Armed with a shadow function that allows it to mimic its programmer, Charlie is able to somehow teach the older generation scrap heap the moves necessary to make them some cash.

The writing on the wall already suggests that this experience will bring father and son closer together, though Levy and screenwriter John Gatins approach it as if they mixed up Charlie Chaplin's The Kid with The Champ as easily as they did Jackie Coogan with Jackie Cooper. This emotional driving force of Real Steel has trouble coming to fruition since the film keeps stalling itself in how it plans to treat the third side of this wannabe poignant triangle. It is never certain precisely how the filmmakers want us to feel about Atom, their cast aside underdog. Is it just part-Max/part-Charlie or meant to be a whole that the audience, but particularly the characters, are supposed to care about? The film's most telling moment comes as Atom is left alone while his handlers go off to reap the benefits of success. The robot and its illuminated eyes simply stares into the mirror; a mimic of his own lonely place in this world. But it is the last of any such moments and becomes one of extroverted irony rather than an introspection into character, society or even the state of sport that is the film industry. It is a frameable moment for what is wrong at the heart of Real Steel.

You say this is just another boxing movie with a futuristic twist? OK, fine. Then a society that has evolved into outlawing human fighting deserves more than just a throwaway bit of exposition during a rainstorm. There is a lot to be explained if society's lust for carnage is satisfied without the sweat, pain and blood of actual human beings. Somehow the gladiatorial mentality is not quite the same when metal-on-metal clash until there is a short circuit. Not that we have to worry about Charlie's number three developing either the best or worst of human characteristics, but couldn't the screenplay at least establish the basic questions we might all be asking. If there are no rules for underground fighting then surely there must be one or two for a league match. As one robot is still able to pick itself up after three knockdowns, TKO's apparently are not a factor. Precisely how much influence can its human controllers inflict on the outcome? Is a shadow boxer allowed if the opponent lacks that function? Can you switch remote operators in the middle of a round? Hell, since there doesn't even seem to be a pre-fight weigh-in what is to stop a five-ton robot with banned lubricant and the functionality of Skynet from getting into the ring with R2-D2?

Aside from the rapid advancement in robot technology, the filmmakers have made no other effort to at least play catch-up with the everyday innovations around it in the year 2020. Same carnival rides, same cars and Dr. Pepper has apparently finally won the cola wars. This is absolute laziness on the part of Shawn Levy and everyone behind Real Steel to cut down costs at the expense of making us believe a robot can punch but not in a future capable of producing them. Sure the special effects are impressive enough to sell the fighting even if Levy is not up to the choreography of a worthy cinematic fight. Having spent nearly eight hours with the pounding metal of the Transformers series, the failure to create any personalities for the combatants actually work within the spectacle of not having much of a rooting interest in who is getting "riddled with the nitrous-fueled gatling guns of Zeus' blows." Just in case there is any confusion as to where your loyalty should lie, the giant enemy bot (named presumably not after the Greek God but Tiny Lister in No Holds Barred) and his owners has been fashioned to tap into America's worst fears. Faster than you can say Pearl Harbor, Cold War or giant black creature whose sole purpose is to knock you out, John Milius has already written a letter about the lack of subtlety.

No surprise considering Levy seems to have structured his final bout right out of Rockys 3 & 4 complete with Olga Fonda stepping in for Brigitte Nielsen. Just do not be fooled that this is Rocky of any number. Somewhere hiding in-between the rusted cracks of Real Steel is a Verhoeven-like satire of how a politically correct society has redirected their need for violence. (The ASPCA should also take note that while humans are kept away from fighting, animals are still fair game.) Even without a filmmaker astute enough to wiggle within those double standards, Real Steel still could have worked as little more than the pseudo-inspirational, father-son pacifying tale it was always intended to be. On at least three occasions the film made its petition for this reviewer to just let go and ride along, but Levy hits these moments with such an absolute thud that it rings like a smack into the reality that we are in the hands of a truly below-mediocre filmmaker. Most moviegoers may not recognize that Levy opens the film with the same Alexi Murdoch song that opened Away We Go, a wonderful film about a father-to-be preparing for the arrival of his first newborn. Was Levy inspired enough to manipulate audiences into the emotions of Sam Mendes' film? Was it the title he saw as an inside joke to hook audiences that they are in for a ride? Or did he simply see it as part of the Dreamworks catalog of owned music and saved the producers money? So much for looking towards the future.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20589&reviewer=198
originally posted: 10/06/11 13:00:00
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User Comments

8/23/12 edutra great, even if predictable and formulaic 5 stars
10/23/11 Theresa Rezler great movie would watcj it again 5 stars
10/14/11 KingNeutron Nice popcorn flick; kid wasnt the best actor, but I enjoyed it. 4 stars
10/06/11 PAUL SHORTT EXCITING AND WELL MADE 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  07-Oct-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Jan-2012

UK
  N/A

Australia
  07-Oct-2011
  DVD: 24-Jan-2012


Directed by
  Shawn Levy

Written by
  John Gatins
  Les Bohem
  Dan Gilroy

Cast
  Hugh Jackman
  Dakota Goyo



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