Friday, April 20, 2012

Real Steel (2011) **

This movie is a good example of how looking at movie reviews can get you in trouble. My instincts told me that a movie about boxing robots is just obviously going to be ridiculous and not worth my time. At some point, however, I read a couple of reviews that acknowledged the seemingly silly premise of the film, but said it was really worth seeing. That’s how it wound up on my Netflix queue and how I wasted an hour watching half of it.

The premise is that in the near future, human boxing is replaced by robot boxing, which is able to be much more violent and destructive. Referees in human bouts have a nasty habit of stopping a fight before someone has, say, their arm ripped off, but that’s not a problem in robot boxing. Hugh Jackman plays Charlie, one of the human handlers who control the fighting ‘bots. Charlie was once a promising boxer himself, and somewhere along the way his unfulfilled potential has made him a bitter ne’er-do-well. He finds a way to blow every opportunity that comes his way, including the grudging affection of the gorgeous robot mechanic he grew up with (Evangeline Lily). What would be the perfect narrative device to throw into this shop-worn story? A kid, of course, and that’s exactly what the filmmakers introduce, in the form of one of Charlie’s blow-bys from an old girlfriend. Charlie and the kid go through the standard Hollywood playbook for this sort of situation, first being standoffish, then gaining a grudging respect for each other, and yada yada yada. This is the point where we paused the movie, and then found that we just really didn’t care to start it up again. It’s possible that something exciting and unexpected was going to happen later in the film, but I doubt it.

The problem is not that “Real Steel” is a bad movie, it‘s that it isn’t a movie for adults. What I have seen of it is done competently enough that this should be good entertainment for teenage boys. The acting is adequate, the robot action is reasonably fun, and Evangeline Lily is cute as a button. I’ve just seen this story before, and putting it in the context of boxing robots doesn’t really add anything. If a sentimental, predictable movie about a man, a boy, and a boxing robot appeals to you, then give it a go. Otherwise, trust your instincts on this one.

2 stars out of 5

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