Review: “Real Steel” – Susan Granger

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Aimed at pre-teen boys, this inspirational action drama is set in 2020, when high-tech entertainment consists of eight-foot-tall, 2000-pound robots brutally battling in boxing rings with their owners holding remote controls.

Scheming, bottom-feeding Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), is a former heavyweight boxer-turned-promoter who pieces together low-end bots from scrap metal for small-time, underground fights, working out of an old Dallas gym owned by his former girlfriend, Bailey (Evangeline Lilly from “Lost”). Suddenly saddled with an estranged 11 year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), whose mother recently died, insensitive, impatient Charlie is all-too-willing to sell him for the $100,000 he owes his creditors.

“You’ve been working with those robots so long, you’ve become one,” Max’s aunt Deborah (Hope Davis) observes, before departing for Europe.

But then, one night, while stealing scrap parts from a junkyard, Max tumbles down a precipice and discovers Atom, a battered, discarded, “generation two” sparring bot. Feisty and ferociously adept at bot-boxing electronics, smart-mouthed Max bonds with Atom, who has a special adjustment, called “the shadow mode,” which allows the android to pantomime human movement. Predictably, abrasive, abusive Charlie eventually bonds with them both, as they train Atom for awesome bouts with bots like Ambush, Midas, Noisy Boy, two-headed Twin Cities and autonomous, constantly-evolving Zeus. (Sugar Ray Leonard served as fight consultant.)

Written by John Gatins, based on a story by Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven and Richard Matheson’s short story “Steel”, which was made into a 1963 “Twilight Zone” episode, and directed by Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”), it combines key elements from sci-fi films, like “Transformers,” “E.T.,” “Wall-E,” “A.I.” and “Star Wars,” and underdog sports stories, like “Rocky,” “Cinderella Man” and “The Champ.” Wags have dubbed it “Real Steal,” noting the all-too-obvious Dr. Pepper product placement.

Hugh Jackman oozes surliness, making young Dakota Goyo all the more charming as he assures endearing, blue-eyed Atom: “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me,” never revealing what that bionic secret might be.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Real Steel” scores a family-friendly 6, despite its recycled Wii-redemption.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.