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Real Steel

real steel robot boxing hugh jackman evangeline lilly

Evangeline Lilly and Hugh Jackman in 'Real Steel.'

Melissa Moseley/Dreamworks

The year is 2020, and the world of Real Steel is ruled by Michael Bay. I’m only half-joking. Boxing is illegal and audiences pay up to watch robots turn each other into scrap metal. It’s Transformers Live! To soften the horror of bot-boxing in a Bay world, the PG-13 Real Steel – based on a waytougher short story by Richard Matheson – offers a human angle. Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, an ex-boxer reduced to hustling bot matches. He sucks at it. He also sucks at fatherhood, having abandoned his son, Max (Dakota Goyo). Now Max’s mom has died, and the kid-hating Charlie inherits an 11-year-old he can’t wait to dump. Can s.o.b. Charlie learn to love his son? Ya think? Jackman gets a fair amount of screen time to play a total dick, and he’s damn good at it. Director Shawn Levy, whose box-office hits give critics meltdowns (Cheaper By the Dozen, The Pink Panther, both Night at the Museum movies), puts frisky energy into the fights, especially when Charlie and son take a junk-pile robot named Atom and build him into a contender. Atom learns his moves by shadowboxing Charlie and Max. Sugar Ray Leonard helped with the motion-capture, and it shows. Good stuff. But the tear-jerking in Real Steel is as shameless as its product placement. We’re being hustled.

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