Review: Even Hugh Jackman Can't Save the Gooey, Clanky ‘Real Steel’

Fred, my 11-year old consultant on family fare who would seem to be the target audience for the film, took a pass — having viewed the trailer, he pronounced, “It looks cheesy and sentimental” … he got that right!

 

Cross watered down versions of “Rocky” with “Terminator 2” and “Transformers” and you get “Real Steel,” a clanking yarn about a man, a boy and their boxing robot.

Really? Is this what mass appeal movies have come to?

Even Fred, my 11-year old consultant on family fare who would seem to be the target audience for the film, took a pass on accompanying me to a screening. Having viewed the trailer, he pronounced, “It looks cheesy and sentimental.”

He got that right.

Which is not to say that “Real Steel” doesn’t have its charms, cheesy though it may be. Chief among these is the talented Hugh Jackman — is this guy ever going to star in a movie worthy of him? — who plays Charlie Kenton, a down on his luck boxing promoter.

The movie is set in the near future and Charlie, who was a boxer himself before robots took over for humans in the ring, now barnstorms around the country, pitting his rock ‘em-sock ‘em robot against other pugilistic piles of metal.

Charlie is pretty much down to his last dollar and busted robot when he finds himself unexpectedly saddled with custody of his 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), after the boy’s mother dies. Being a dad is the last thing Charlie wants but­ — you get a gold star if you can guess where this is going — father and son begin to grow close as they work together to repair a rusted, old school robot and position him for a title match.

Shawn Levy (“Date Night”) directs this emotionally gooey and acoustically jangling tale with workmanlike competence. The movie moves along at a respectable clip, slick action scenes alternating with those full of honey-drenched sentiment, but never once does what’s happening on screen feel anything other than prefabricated.

Jackman, speaking with a gruff American drawl, hits all the right notes but there’s not an authentic character here for him to play. Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”), cast as Charlie’s on again, off again girlfriend and the owner of a gym in Dallas where he sometimes bunks, has what sadly has become the prototypical women’s role in this kind of movie.

She shows up periodically, dressed in a skimpy tank top, to recalibrate the hero’s moral compass and remind him that he’s a good guy at heart. These are thankless parts and Lilly does what she can with it, which isn’t much.

There’s nothing real about “Real Steel” except its shameless desire to please by going where better and more successful movies have gone before.