Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 07 October 2011
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Remember Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots, those plasticized warriors that threw jabs and uppercuts at each other from a square ring, trying to knock each other’s block (head) off? Real Steel is the closest you’ll come to that kind of action on a silver screen. It takes place in the near future; society is the same except robot boxing is recognized as a professional sport.
The robots are impressive, even majestic, but the film lands in trouble with a trite, unimaginative script, silly dialogue full of clichés and attempts to counterbalance the feigned schmaltz with smartass, precocious babble from an 11-year-old boy.
Ex-boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is an irresponsible rascal, fighting his robot-of-the-moment against other metal challengers (or bulls) at county fairs and other non-professional venues. His ex-wife’s sudden death plants son Max (Dakota Goyo) squarely into his bachelor life for the summer.
Long-suffering-but-getting-fed-up girlfriend Bailey (Evangeline Lily) is also, conveniently, a gym owner and robot mechanic so there’s somewhere to store Charlie’s giant pugilists and someone to fix them.
Of course, money’s a problem. Charlie owes creditors, from the understanding Bailey to the malevolent Ricky (Kevin Durand) who tricked him into a huge, unfair bet. Charlie’s a guy on the run, and now he’s got a kid and a resentful one at that.
Max speaks with an adult vocabulary, in a high-pitched, accusatory tone, sometimes punctuated with mild profanity. The two have a contentious relationship which evolves over time when Max finds a discarded robot in a scrap heap. Atom is an early version of fighting robot, smaller, weaker, and without the shiny chrome fixtures and ornamental trappings of current models.
Atom and Max have immediate chemistry and the boy’s faith in the “little machine that could” clashes with Charlie’s sense of opportunistic money-making – until Atom starts winning. The audience can see where this will lead from miles off, no telescope required.
The robots are the stars here. With names like Ambush, Noisy Boy, Midas and Zeus, they are like powerful upright cars with limbs; smaller than Transformers but large enough to give any human male reason to evacuate, either the room or his shorts.
Hugh Jackman proves that he can play slimy with unnerving ease, backing it up with plenty of remorse and bravado. Dakota Goyo is charming right on cue, and comfortable with his carefully constructed casual lines. The kid CAN dance. Evangeline Lily is the voice of reason, but even her character is made to scream out, “C’mon, get in the game!” to a downed robot and NOT to his human controller. Blame the silly script.
Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night) gets it right with the entertainment factor of sparring, shadow boxing and combative robots (Atom can dance, too). The human adventure doesn’t fare so well, relying on a transparent script by John Gatins (Hard Ball) from a story by Dan Gilroy (The Fall) and Jeremy Leven (My Sister’s Keeper) built on predictable components without much motivation to counteract the intellectual quicksand.
Kids should like the film, and maybe more than a few adults looking for some escapist action would agree. Savvy audiences may not find the price of admission much of a real steal at all.