Movie Review: The Mega-Schmaltzy Americana of Real Steel

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Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) and his son, Max (Dakota Goyo) attend to their robot boxer, Atom, between rounds at the World Robot Boxing Championship in DreamWorks Pictures' action drama "Real Steel". Photo: DreamWorks II Distribution Co.

A smoke-spewing, gas-guzzling Hummer of a movie, Real Steel is just the crass, supersize metaphor America deserves. In the dubiously near future, old-fashioned boxing is over, robot fighting is the next big thing, and Hugh Jackman, in full-blown Oklahoma! galumphing-galoot mode, is Charlie, an old-fashioned heart-bigger-than-his-brain hero. He coulda been a contender, but the blue-collar ex-boxer from Pennsylvania’s steel belt is all washed up, a gambler who can’t quit going all-in as he hustles bots in boxing matches, mashing buttons on a game controller like an ADD child.

This is not, like Harry Potter or Superman, some rags-to-riches tale about an orphan who’s actually a prince in exile. And it’s not, like The Matrix or Spider-Man, a zero-to-hero story about a dork who realizes he can be a superpowered savior. It’s more of a throwback to Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick, a rags-to-middle-class-respectability tale about the humble joy of old-fashioned decency. We’re number two! We’re number two!