"Real Steel" is a Disney World ride, minus the surprises: The futuristic action drama comforts but fails to impress

Posted by Eli Cohen

A perfect example of what a typical Hollywood movie offers these days, "Real Steel" features a predictable plot, quality acting, somewhat believable special effects and the usual fare.

Directed by Shawn Levy, the Hugh Jackman blockbuster follows Charlie Keaton, a former boxer trying to make it in the futuristic sport of robot boxing, which pits robots controlled by humans against each other. Along the way, he tries to reconnect with his estranged 11-year-old son, Max.

The plot is comforting and easy to anticipate, and it brings me back to my childhood. Let's be honest: who among us has not been instilled with the desire to see a giant boxing robot match since playing Rock'em Sock'em Robots for the first time?

The idea behind the production of "Real Steel" is to give everyone in the audience what they know they like, because they have already seen it a hundred times. Perhaps that may not apply to the fighting robots, but it does for just about every other aspect of the film.

There was not a single chance taken in this movie. It is a generic underdog story that is saved by the fight scenes and the acting of Jackman and 11-year-old Justin Bieber look-alike Dakota Goyo. Even the stunning Evangeline Lilly (Kate from "Lost") could not make me forget that this movie rivals "Avatar" for most predictable plot in the history of cinema.

Despite all of the above, I cannot say in good conscience that I fully disliked "Real Steel." It is undeniably entertaining, and there is nothing actively bad about the film. It is a feel-good drama that actually succeeds in making you feel good, if only fleetingly.

But therein lies the main problem with this movie – it is completely middle of the road. If it were any worse, it would get attention for being terrible. If it were better, it would be praised as a great film in a year of disappointments. But its complete grey oatmeal-like blandness makes it uninteresting and unmemorable.

That may almost be a triumph for director Shawn Levy, who always manages to fall short of success (he brought us "Cheaper by the Dozen" and the horrific "Pink Panther" remake). Considering that his biggest financial hit was "Night at the Museum," and his highest-regarded film was the Steve Carell and Tina Fey flop "Date Night," perhaps this level of mediocrity should be expected. It definitely should have been after watching the "Real Steel" trailer, yet I remained hopeful. I remained hopeful that the man who can make a piece of trash like "Van Helsing" bearable can pull out a win with this one.

In regards to the acting, Jackman does a very good job. However, turning Charlie Kenton, a washed-up boxer and deadbeat father given a second chance, into someone the audience hasn't seen before is a near-Sisyphean task.

Goyo also gives a very strong performance as the sometimes cute, sometimes annoyingly precocious estranged son. Nonetheless, when he gives the same not-quite-tear-jerking line to his father as he gives to his robot, you have to say enough is enough.

That is the feeling I came away with after watching this movie. Enough of the same plot over and over again. Enough of the down-and-out boxer who is given a second chance. Mark Whalberg and Christian Bale knocked the role out collectively. Russell Crowe almost got there. Hugh Jackman? Enough is enough.

 

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