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‘Real Steel’ is a rusty mess of a movie

Action film’s ‘borrowed’ ideas, unsavory lead character make it one to avoid

POSTED: October 6, 2011 12:30 a.m.
/AP Photo/Disney/DreamWorks II

The WRB robot Noisy Boy towers over Hugh Jackman, right, and Dakota Goyo in a scene from "Real Steel."

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Rather than my usual review, I offer an infomercial instead.

Are you tired of watching somebody else make money off lame movie ideas? Sick of working hard for little pay while folks in Hollywood earn so much for being so bad at their jobs? Wish you were on the receiving rather than the losing end of the Hollywood box office? 

Well, now you can be!

Hollywood studios churn out uninspired yet profitable product all the time, and now you can too by following these simple instructions.

Step one: Base your movie on source material already been proven to be effective. 

For instance, “Real Steel” is based on an episode of The Twilight Zone called “Steel.” Choosing a cult franchise for your source material is especially smart because it will lend your movie credibility that it has no chance of earning on its own! 

“Steel” was set in a future in which human boxing has been outlawed for being barbaric and destructive. Lee Marvin stars as the owner/manager of a humanoid robot boxer. When his malfunctioning robot can’t fight, Marvin’s character, a broke and desperate former boxer, disguises himself as a robot and fights an actual robot. 

It doesn’t end well for Marvin’s character, but “Steel” makes poignant statements about the brutality of the sport and the human capacity to meet any challenge.

“Steel” has already been audience-tested by the numerous other movies and television shows it has influenced, including an episode of “The Simpsons” (“I, D’oh!-Bot” from 2004) in which Homer disguises himself as a robot and enters the Robot Rumble competition in an attempt to make Bart proud.

But “Real Steel” avoids any overt social commentary that might drive away some viewers. Instead, the movie borrows from the 1987 Sylvester Stallone (cough) classic “Over the Top” and focuses on a father-son road trip.

Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a former boxer turned robot boxer owner. Instead of being down on his luck and desperate (ooh, that sounds depressing!), Charlie is a wise-cracking, opportunistic swindler who owes money and apologies to everyone he knows.

Charlie learns early on that the mother of his child has died and he now has custody of the boy, Max (Dakota Goyo). Charlie barely remembers that he fathered a son around 11 years ago. He reluctantly travels to the courthouse, planning to sign away custody. When the boy’s wealthy aunt says she wants custody, Charlie uses the situation to extort money from her husband.

Part of the deal is that Charlie has to care for Max for two months. So Charlie and Max hit the road, bouncing from one robot boxing match to another, bonding along the way.

Charlie is a thoroughly despicable character. Even though we all know that Max is going to change him, building an entire movie around this deadbeat jackass is risky. Which brings us to ...

Step two: Cast bankable stars in your lead roles. Jackman is handsome and charismatic enough that some viewers will forget how awful Charlie is. Charlie’s love interest is played by Evangeline Lilly, who might draw fans of “Lost” into the theater.

Step three: Design the film to resemble other popular films. The robots in “Real Steel” are scaled-down replicas of Transformers. The robots are the best technical feature of the movie, and the marketing makes the movie look like Transformers 4. Crafty!

Step four: Insert enough cursing to earn the movie a PG-13 rating. This will attract the broadest cross-section of the moviegoing demographic, even though the story is only appealing to young boys.

Step five: product placement. Increase your profits by featuring corporate logos prominently in as many shots as possible. “Real Steel” overachieves on this step.

Put all these elements into a blender, and voila! You’ve got box office dollars!

(Warning: Using “Real Steel” may cause certain side effects, including but not limited to boredom, regret, loss of spending money, wasted time, disappointment and cynicism.)

We will return this column to its regularly scheduled programming next week.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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