** (out of four)
"Real Steel"? As opposed to what, imitation metallic substitute? Giant beams made of cheese? Trust me: At no point when I watched the trailer for a movie about futuristic robots beating the business out of each other did I wonder, "Wait, is that real steel or what?"
I'm sure zero time or effort was put into the title, and unfortunately about the same was put into the story. In fact, I'm relatively certain one of the robots featured in "Real Steel" wrote the script to boost his salary. This is safe, underwhelming genericness (should be a word).
In the year 2020, typical down-on-his-luck dude Charlie (Hugh Jackman) has mounds and mounds of gambling debt and, oh yes, a penchant for managing robot boxers. Before you can say "oldest plot in the book," Charlie learns that his estranged son, Max (Dakota Goyo), is about to come back into his life. Can the two overcome 11 years of distance and Max's resentment to form a bond and rise through the ranks of the robot fighting world? Um, what do you think?
Not that you go into a sports movie like this expecting surprises, but empty-headed fun doesn't stand a chance when every moment feels lazily obvious. Evangeline Lilly ("Lost") deserves a chance on the big screen, but she's working with scraps as a part of Charlie's past he'd like to keep around in the present.
"Real Steel" needs more moments of unexpected lightness—like when Max enjoys dancing with his robot Atom, who is able to mirror humans' behavior—and fewer moments that make you ask yourself questions like, "What's the point of a robot punching another robot in the crotch?"
Charlie notes that robot boxing developed because people wanted no-holds-barred violence that they couldn't get when humans fight; compared to the bloody beatdowns of UFC, painless robot battles seem to have plenty of holds barred. Also, why haven't robots made their way into any other sports in this society?
Absolutely nothing about the world has changed in nine years, other than the institution of boxing between robots, who aren't used for any other purpose. This seems like a waste.
Watch Matt on "You & Me This Morning," Fridays at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U