‘Real Steel’: Good flick for boys’ night out

Go­ing in­to Real Steel, I ex­pec­ted a movie that 8-to-12-year-old boys would love; every­one else — not so much. Dir­ect­or Shawn Levy’s pri­or cred­its (in­clud­ing Night at the Mu­seum and Pink Pan­ther) in­volved some level of chees­iness, so I ex­pec­ted more of the same.

I also thought what a silly title. Is there such a thing as fake steel? Also, I find my­self fight­ing the over­whelm­ing urge to spell it as Reel Steel.

Well, I was some­what cor­rect about who will dig this flick. Young males will def­in­itely love Real Steel. Any­one not in that demo­graph­ic may be an­noyed like I was by the heavy-handed schmaltz, emo­tion­al ma­nip­u­la­tion and over-the-top product place­ment, but in the end, the movie had the en­tire audi­ence root­ing for Atom, the box­ing ro­bot, to win the big match.

Back­ing up a bit, Real Steel’s be­gin­ning is kind of hum­drum, and things aren’t very in­ter­est­ing un­til the kid comes in­to the pic­ture.

The movie is set at some un­deter­mined time in the fu­ture when hu­man box­ing has been out­lawed, and people have turned to ro­bot-box­ing as the latest, greatest sports phe­nomen­on. Hugh Jack­man plays Charlie Kenton, a former box­er who now patches up cast-off ro­bots and enters them in fight­ing matches (which usu­ally are losses).

Charlie also is a dead­beat dad whose world is flipped up­side down when the kid is ba­sic­ally dropped in his lap after the moth­er dies. There is an aunt (Hope Dav­is) will­ing to ad­opt him, but her wealthy older hus­band (James Re­born) brokers a side deal that Charlie will take care of his son for $100,000 while the aunt and hus­band spend the sum­mer in Italy.

Charlie wants little to do with Max (Dakota Goyo), un­til he turns out to be a ro­bot-fight lov­er like his dad. While hunt­ing for parts, they stumble upon an old ro­bot, and Max de­cides to keep him and turn him in­to a fight­er.

Atom, as he is named, is smal­ler than the typ­ic­al fight­ing ro­bots, but Max sees something spe­cial in him. Max con­vinces Charlie to train Atom and put him in the ring.

I felt emo­tion­ally ma­nip­u­lated with all the fath­er/son bond­ing. The point was def­in­itely to trans­form Jack­man from jerk to nice guy, and Jack­man does a de­cent job with a mostly un­likable char­ac­ter.

Charlie does a have love in­terest, Bailey (Evan­geline Lilly), who helps re­hab the ro­bots. Don’t ex­pect much from this clich&ea­cute;d storyline. It felt forced and ad­ded as an af­ter­thought. The real love story is between fath­er and son.

Now about those ro­bots — they aren’t as ad­vanced as, say, the Trans­formers bots, but they can do some cool stuff. They can’t talk and they’re com­pletely con­trolled by the hu­mans us­ing video game-like equip­ment. Even though they don’t talk, the ro­bots do have dis­tinct per­son­al­it­ies.

Real Steel has some crowd-pleas­ing mo­ments and, like any sports flick, en­cour­ages the audi­ence to root for the un­der­dog (in this case, it’s Atom).

Between Hugh Jack­man, a cute kid and box­ing ro­bots, Real Steel makes an  at­tempt to have something that will ap­peal to every­one. It’s solidly en­ter­tain­ing, but I still main­tain my ori­gin­al as­ser­tion that this is a flick that only boys will love. ••

Movie Grade: B-

You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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