‘Real Steel’ delivers knockout characters

The story may be timeless, but director Shawn Levy delivers a one-two punch in “Real Steel.” The film’s premise is what audiences have seen before — a no-name, underdog fighter is poised to take on a heavily favored world champion. Except the fighters are robots. Just imagine Rocky Balboa as a larger-than-life Transformer. Trust me, it doesn’t play out as ridiculously as it sounds.

And while the audience knows exactly where the storyline is going within the first few minutes of the film, “Real Steel” is a well-acted, entertaining film.

Set in the not-so-distant future (evident by the smart phones everyone is using), robot boxing has taken center ring. The sweet science is replaced by over-the-top, video game-like robots who battle to destruction.

Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a washed-up human boxer who has been reduced to commanding has-been robots on the county fair circuit. He sees a financial opportunity when he sells his parental rights to his son, Max Kenton (Dakota Goyo), to Max’s aunt after his mother dies.

Except there’s one catch — Charlie has to look after Max for the summer. While the two have no interest in getting to know each other, they both have an interest in robot boxing.

While rummaging for spare robot parts in a junkyard, Max stumbles upon Atom, a second generation robot boxer. Although he was built to be a sparring bot, the father-and-son team work together on Atom to turn him into a winner.

Atom gains popularity for his underdog status and the fact he dances before every fight (guess which is his favorite).

Standing on the shoulders of Atom, Charlie and Max get a chance at a title match against Zeus — an undefeated robot boxer with a history of pulverizing its competition within the first round.

While the story could have easily turned into an over-the-top, cheeseball film, “Real Steel” is surprisingly heartfelt. Charlie and Max are two characters the audience genuinely care about and want to see reunited. Goyo is especially memorable, avoiding the cutesy gimmicks Hollywood loves to have in its child stars.

The supporting cast is a bit lackluster, but serves its purpose. Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”) plays Bailey Tallet, the daughter of Charlie’s boxing coach who also owns the gym Charlie lives in. Anthony Mackie manages to get a few laughs as Finn, a robot boxing promoter. Hope Davis and James Rebhorn pop up as Charlie’s uber-rich in-laws.

Directed by Shawn Levy. 127 minutes.


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