REAL STEEL (Dir. Shawn Levy, 2011)
A father and son bond over robots bashing the bejesus out of one another in this piece of cliché-ridden formulaic fluff that is sure to be a ginormous crowd-pleaser. I'm basing that on the audience at the preview screening I attended who applauded many times throughout the film.
Like the TRANSFORMERS movies, I'm feeling a "critic-proof" vibe here. Watch this be a huge hit despite critical consensus rating it low, because, hey, people aren't going to take their kids to see THE IDES OF MARCH this weekend, are they?
The movie is set in the future, just 9 years from now mind you, where not much is different except that there's a “World Robot Boxing” league (the WRB). Obviously, it's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots as a global sport, and Hugh Jackman as a former boxer, wants to take a bot to the big-time.
Jackman is the ultimate movie underdog - he's crusty, washed up, and heavily in debt, trying to make ends meet by entering old rusty robots in rodeos and state fairs. Then his long lost son shows up, a precocious (read: smartass) Dakota Goyo, to join Jackman on the road.
Goyo takes to a outdated robot he finds in a junkyard. It only takes a montage for the robot, named Atom, to be trained and wired into shape in order to win match after match.
This all leads to a climatic fight with the undefeated champion, Zeus, a mega-robot created by Karl Yune as an arrogant Japanese designer, partnered with an icy Russian robot owner Olga Fonda who Goyo refused to sell Atom to.
The CGI-ed animatronic robot action is certainly convincing, enough to make the packed crowd around me react as if they were watching a live event happening right in front of them.
But while they clapped, I cringed.
I cringed at the ultra-hackneyed dialogue – Hope Davis as Goyo’s rich aunt actually says to Jackman: “You'vebeen working with those robots so long you've become one,” a line that I bet made Davis cringe inside.
I cringed at the by-the-numbers plotting in which there was not one unpredictable moment.
I cringed at the dance moves Goyo does with Atom (they do “the Robot” of course) that appeared to be sponsored by Dr. Pepper from the huge amount of product placement.
I cringed at the tacked on romantic subplot that has Lost’s Evangeline Lilly cheering the father-son-robot team from the side-lines.
As unbearably cheesy in its noisy boxing ring scenes as it is in its quiet attempts to pull the heartstrings, REAL STEEL is like a robot itself – a mechanical contraption made out of parts from other movies that has no emotional depth. I know that’s an easy dig to make, but it’s what this treacly tripe deserves.