Rating: 4 stars out of 5
It should really suck since it sounds so corny, but surprise, surprise, Real Steel actually does charm as a jaunty, well-welded action-family pic. It makes you want to root for a rusty old bucket in a clang-clang fight against an intimidating brand new fridge.
“Watch me,” Hugh Jackman (as hustler-robot trainer Charlie Kenton) instructs the plucky, unearthed-from-junkyard robot named Atom on how to knock the other bot out with jabs, hooks, roundhouses and rope-a-dope tactics as if the tin man’s Muhammed Ali in the Thrilla In Manila.
Yep, we really love watching Hugely Likeable Hugh too because he’s such a cheery, can-do bloke even when he’s supposed to be an irresponsible fella, chronic loser and an even worse dad.
The dude’s so washed up as a luckless ex-boxer himself hustling the dumps of seedy, illegal fight clubs and amusement parks with his low-grade boxing robots, you can almost smell Wolverine’s urine.
By the way, no explanation is given as to how we’ve ended up with heavy metal fighters doing Russell Crowe’s Gladiator thingy in big arenas and haphazard indie joints.
Oh, who pays attention if you yak too much these days? Everything looks the same, we dress the same, we talk the same, but we must just accept without question that we’re suddenly smack in the Planet Of The Mechs smackdown.
Anyway, everybody’s chasing Kenton for unpaid debts like pi**ed-off loan sharks. So, when his estranged 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), becomes his accidental travelling companion due to a temporary custody deal and picks up a punch-drunk-junk Atom from the scrap heap, Kenton transforms from zero to hero in the way you never doubled Sylvester Stallone wouldn’t go from chump to champ in Rocky.
Time out – Dakota Goyo is not to be confused with Dakota Fanning. First of all, he’s a boy and secondly, he’s less irritating. In fact, he’s cloned as the cute, short kid straight out of the 1979 boxing flick, The Champ, which has been dubbed the “saddest movie in the world” because the dad dies.
Of course, nobody in Real Steel, circa 2011-plus, dies. We mean, this is Disney super-beyond PG. Although you do get some mechanical head, arm and assorted body parts amputation. But it’s all made less traumatic by the great chemistry between Jackman and the boy here.
The kid, unlike your average dopey junior, is spunky amid the clunky machinery with quick fingers maneuvering his robot ringside via a computer game console.
As the chip, er, bolt of the old block, he jazzes it up entering the arena with his robot with dance moves from Justin Bieber (very fun segment here).
Jackman kind of yells and bickers with this sassy lad, completely oblivious of ever winning any Father Of The Year award.
But the great thing about the bloke is that he really looks like he’s easygoing, generous and ego-less enough to give way to a punk kid in crucial bonding moments.
He’s probably the only actor in the world who, even as a jerk with kids, can still be a lovable jerk with kids.
And then there’s the third wheel in the group hug. Not Evangeline Lilly, the hottie from TV’s Lost, as the owner of the Proverbial Humble Gym Where Champs Are Made, who sticks to formula by being dutifully supportive at the big fight; but the clunk of junk itself – Atom the underdog robot bonding terrifically in a father-son-spare part combo.
You know they actually made real steel to go with the computer parts, a specimen of which is on display at The Cathay cinema here.
Jackman talked in promo interviews about acting with a real-life robot as he taught it to nod its head, move its body and throw a punch.
This real steal just pulls our underdog, sorry, underbot heartstrings.
Watch it nab Best Supporting Mechanism at the Oscars.