U/A; Action, Sci-fi
Dir: Shawn Levy
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn
Rating: * * * (out of 5)
I remember reading a review of Con Air, a guilty-pleasure favourite I have watched innumerable times, when I was about 12 years old. It had received, I think, three stars from the critic of a leading English broadsheet, who called it 'silly but supremely entertaining'. I watched the film and came out of the theatre all but yelling obscenities at any critic who'd given that movie anything less than four and a half, perhaps even five stars. My adolescent mind was convinced that movies couldn't get any better.
Real Steel is a similar, effortlessly watchable Con Air of sorts for today's 12-year-old boys, a movie impressively dedicated to entertaining its target audience while doling out consolations to adults in the form of a shirtless Hugh Jackman (the 'money shot' for many female audience members, surely) and a classic father-son male bonding tale. One could easily call this 'Rocky meets Transformers' -- that's how shamelessly derivative this movie is. However, director Shawn Levy (Night At The Museum, Date Night) has the good sense to acknowledge his influences even as he converts a classic fighter story -- only one set in 2020 and involving fighting robots -- into a U/A testosterone-fueled drama.
The movie envisions a time when boxing between humans has been banned in lieu of hardcore mixed martial arts performed by robots. This seems a little far-fetched at first, given that 2020 is a mere nine years away. However, if one is aware of the cult following a show called Robot Wars enjoys, it's hard not to fall, at least a little, for the world depicted here. From gladiatorial matches in seedy state fairs to prime-time live TV coverage in swanky stadia, Real Steel makes robot-fighting look every bit as awesome as it sounds (props to Tom Meyer's jaw-dropping animatronic robots).
What really makes the movie worth its running time is the script's sincere efforts in terms of dialogue and characterisation. Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a boxer-turned-fighting-robot-controller deep in debt as he keeps losing fights, much to the chagrin of buddy-with-benefits Bailey (Lilly), whose father's gym Kenton uses as a warehouse for his robots. When he is summoned to court to hand over custody of his 11-year-old son Max (Goyo) to a wealthy couple, he dispassionately cuts a monetary deal that also saddles him with Max for the summer while his foster parents go off on holiday.
The rest is predictable but engaging, mainly because of John Gatins' clich �d but well-written screenplay that gives the spunky Goyo plenty of opportunity to chew scenery. Goyo, who seems talented and mature beyond his years, is extremely aware of how good an actor he is. This is good for the movie most of the time, and bad those few times his precociousness starts to get annoying. Thankfully, Jackman is around to save the day, delivering an enthusiastic performance and sharing extraordinary chemistry with Goyo, leading us to believe that they must have shared some great off-screen camaraderie as well.
Silly but supremely entertaining? Yep, sounds about right.