Anyway old enough and raised in the Portland area remembers the KISN DJ the Real Don Steel. When I stumbled upon the title Real Steel, I at first thought that Hugh Jackman would be playing the amazingly amusing disc jockey. But no, he plays a "bad boy" in the year 2020 when boxers have been replaced by huge robots who look like animation graphics from the prelude to a NFL football game and from the outskirts of Artificial Intelligence. Given that there is also a kid involved, the film evokes memories of both The Champ, silent and sound version, and also given that Steven Spielberg is one of the producers – arguably the 92nd movie or TV show he has been behind since the start of the year – it emphasizes heart over head.
A modern version of Stallone's Over the Top, the film is an anthology of various tiny plot elements that the industrial manufacturers in Hollywood have noticed that audiences seem to go for. They seem to be right: the film "won" its weekend at the box-office. Like Over the Top and so many other films, from Oscar winning foreign films to rom-coms, the bad boy main guy is burdened with a kid, through terribly contrived means that cast Hope Davis yet again as a harridan. In any case, Jackman's character manages to get himself a new robot for his back roads-rodeo-style tour of the country where he "manages" his new robot in various contests, that naturally rise in importance and violence. The film is rated PG-13 because robots, i.e., CGI constructions, tearing each other apart is much less hazardous on the child mind than "real" people with blood coursing through their bodies.
For make no mistake, this is a children's film. Director Shawn Levy, a former actor (a sentimental breed) has made kids' films his niche field, with titles such as Date Night, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Night at the Museum, The Pink Panther, and Cheaper by the Dozen under his bib. He has made a lot of money and made popular films, so it is inevitable that he has fallen into the clutches of Spielberg. Yet in skill, Mr. Levy falls fall below the level of other actors-turned-directors, such as Ron Howard and Jon Favreau, though like them masters of the big but hollow enterprise.
The worst sin of this predictable accretion of clichés is that it wastes Lost's Evangeline Lilly, who is the spirit of CBS crime TV shows is the "nerd" computer expert who designs the robot(s) that Jackman uses on the road. Kids will like the robot, and take a pass on her.