Real Steel – the new sci-fi sports flick from Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy – is set in the year 2020. Its vision of the future looks remarkably similar to the present save for the fact that the sport of boxing has been taken over by pugilistic robots. There are no robot butlers taxi drivers or senators – just boxers. Apparently technology in 2020 has advanced enough to allow for the creation of massive mechanized beings of astonishing dexterity but humanity has found no use for them beyond the boxing ring.
Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton a has-been boxer turned small-time robot-fight promoter. A consummate hustler who’ll do anything for a buck Charlie’s fallen on hard times of late. Opportunity arrives in the diminutive guise of 11-year-old Max (Dakota Goyo) his estranged son who turns out to be something of an electronics wunderkind. Together they work to fashion Atom an obsolete ramshackle “sparring robot” left to rot in a junkyard into a contender.
Anyone who’s seen an underdog sports movie – or any movie for that matter – made in the last half-century can fairly easily ascertain how this one plays out. (The story borrows tropes from The Champ Rocky and Over the Top wholesale.) Atom proves surprisingly capable in the ring compensating for his inferior technology with grit perseverance and an ability to absorb massive amounts of punishment. Under the guidance of Charlie and Max he makes an improbable run through the ranks eventually earning a one-in-a-million shot at the World Robot Boxing championship.
Real Steel was executive-produced by Steven Spielberg; it bears his unmistakable imprint. Levy judiciously deploys Spielberg’s patented blockbuster mix of dazzling special effects and gooey sentiment wrapping it all in a highly polished if wholly synthetic package. Still Real Steel might have amounted to so much glossy hokum were it not for its champion Hugh Jackman. Other actors might eye such a project as an opportunity to coast for an easy paycheck but damned if Jackman isn’t completely invested. The film’s underdog storyline isn’t nearly as inspiring as watching its star so gamely devote himself to selling material that will strike anyone over the age of 12 as patently ludicrous. His efforts pay off handsomely: Real Steel is about as rousing and affecting as any film inspired by Rock’em Sock’em Robots can expect to be. (The filmmakers claim lineage to a short story-turned-Twilight Zone episode but who are they kidding?)
Umm hard to pin this one down. While not dealing with a) water b) teenagers or c) being hungry this bizarre and raunchy cinematic experience has something to do with the mysterious origins of Aqua Teen Hunger Force members: Meatwad (literally a meatball) Frylock (a floating box of French fries with a diabolical face) and Master Shake (a horny milk shake). When an immortal piece of exercise equipment threatens the balance of galactic peace these three become unlikely heroes teaming up with the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past and the Plutonians to strive for ultimate control of the sinister deadly device. There’s also the fat slob New Jersey neighbor Carl who tries unsuccessfully to keep the Aqua Teens away from his house and his pool; the mad scientist Dr. Weird and his lab assistant Steve; and two villainous pairs of dastardly villains--Ignignokt and Err of the dreaded Mooninite Army. Seriously we aren’t making any of this up. Produced by Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis ATHF is based on their successful Adult Swim series in which they also provide the vocals: Willis voices Carl Meatwad and Ignignokt while Maiellaro takes on Err Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past. There’s also Dana Snyder as Master Shake Carey Means as Frylock and Andy Merrill and Mike Schatz as The Plutonians. Apparently most of the dialogue is improvised. Ah to be a fly on the wall in THAT recording studio. You can just imagine those guys sitting around with fast food and candy wrappers everywhere and an old Galaga video game in the corner coming up with the most off-the-wall stuff they can think of. Of course some of it may only be funny to them but it’s their ballgame. They can do what they want. Maiellaro and Willis who also worked on Cartoon Network’s hilariously subversive Space Ghost: Coast to Coast are some sincerely messed-up dudes. The first ATHF episode “Baffler Meal” (a parody of McDonald’s Happy Meal) appeared on the Space Ghost show and featured a prototypical version of ATHF that resembled the future characters but differed in appearance personality and voice. It sort of grew exponentially since then and now the show is going into its fifth season. In ATHF Colon Movie Film for Theaters the vulgar humor is certainly South Park-inspired and the animation at best rudimentary. The best are Ignignokt and Err who look like old arcade video-game characters. As they threaten the world with impending destruction they shoot their ray guns which move at the speed of a snail: beep [pause] beep [pause] beep [pause]...and so it goes. Little hysterical touches like that pop up all over the place. The overall movie however will probably only speak to those twisted minds out there who watch the show snagging a few new converts (myself included) along the way. Maybe that’ll be enough.