While the most impressive thing about Real Steel is easily the CG robot boxers, one has to wonder why Shawn Levy didn’t also use computer graphics to make James Rebhorn look more lifelike. Rebhorn, who I was initially happy to see in the opening titles, appears to be wearing a pound of makeup.
Steel has a solid supporting cast—besides Rebhorn, Hope Davis shows up for a small, thankless role and is good. In a tiny (though fourth billed) part, Anthony Mackie is good. Kevin Durand is great as a vile bully.
And there’s a good movie somewhere in Real Steel. A has-been boxer takes up promoting robot ones, finds out he’s got a kid, he and the kid bond, human concern is abound. And occasionally Levy—ably assisted by cinematographer Mauro Fiore—creates a good scene. But they’re far and few and they never feature Hugh Jackman (as the has-been boxer) and Dakota Goyo (as the kid). In those good moments, usually well-composed shots of Jackman by himself, it’s like a terrible future version of a good Paul Newman seventies movie.
Jackman’s okay. The film’s dialogue is horrendous, so there’s not much he could do. Goyo’s weak, but not terrible. Evangeline Lilly is useless as Jackman’s love interest.
Danny Elfman’s score is bad. He proves incapable of aping the Rocky music, which seems pretty simple.
Levy’s composition is fine, he’s just insipid.
Real Steel is real stupid; it wouldn’t have taken much to make it smart.
Directed by Shawn Levy; screenplay by John Gatins, based on a story by Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven and a short story by Richard Matheson; director of photography, Mauro Fiore; edited by Dean Zimmerman; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Tom Meyer; produced by Don Murphy, Susan Montford and Levy; released by Touchstone Pictures.
Starring Hugh Jackman (Charlie Kenton), Dakota Goyo (Max Kenton), Evangeline Lilly (Bailey Tallet), Anthony Mackie (Finn), Kevin Durand (Ricky), Hope Davis (Aunt Debra), James Rebhorn (Uncle Marvin), Karl Yune (Tak Mashido), Olga Fonda (Farra Lemkova) and John Gatins (Kingpin).