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?)
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Proving that everything “old” can be new again 17 Again opens in 1989 where star basketball player Mike O’Donnell turns his back on a college scholarship deciding instead to marry his girlfriend Scarlet when she reveals they are suddenly expecting a baby. Cut to 20 years later Mike’s marriage and job are floundering when he is physically transformed back into his 17-year-old self although his mind and sensibilities still remain that of a decidedly square thirtysomething dude. With the help of his nerdy-turned-billionaire best childhood buddy Ned he gets himself enrolled in the same school his own teenage kids now attend. Can he help them avert the same kinds of mistakes now that he (sorta) has a second chance to change?
WHO’S IN IT?
Zac Efron (High School Musical) shoots and scores in a breakout starring role. He shows he’s got the comic chops to believably pull off the way-out-there premise of being a 37-year-old trapped in a 17-year-old’s body. Matthew Perry (Friends) does a nice job bookending the movie as the older Mike but it’s Efron’s show all the way. Thomas Lennon follows up his hilarious supporting antics as the spurned man-date in I Love You Man with some equally amusing work as Mike’s friend Ned while Leslie Mann plays the estranged wife in style. As Mike’s kids who unknowingly become high school buds with their own father newcomer Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg get enough screen time to shine. Melora Hardin (The Office) is also quite funny as the school principal that lovelorn Ned keeps stalking.
Although the premise of the adult/kid switcheroo has been done to death director Burr Steers and writer Jason Filardi take it one step further a la It's a Wonderful Life or Damn Yankees by letting their main character regain his youth for the chance to see what his life would be like if he could live it another way. This fanciful premise makes this “teen” comedy one that adults will probably enjoy even more.
The filmmakers sometimes have a tendency to go over the top particularly in the "Star Wars fight sequence" when the newly transformed Mike confronts old friend Ned with the news and a laser battle erupts (!). Another scene where 17-year-old Mike is seduced by his own unwitting daughter may be funny but it veers a little too far into creepy territory.
DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?
If you like 17 Again try renting 18 Again in which 81-year-old George Burns switches places with his grandson. Or how about Big Vice Versa Like Father Like Son or either version of Freaky Friday? And who said there are no original ideas in Hollywood ...
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
A no-brainer — the "Zac Pack" will be out in force on opening day.
Dr. Dre won big in Las Vegas, and he didn't even have to step into a casino to do it. The rapper/producer took home the Legend Award at the Radio Music Awards held Saturday night at the Aladdin Resort.
Creed took home two awards: Artist of the Year and Song of the Year ("With Arms Wide Open") in the rock/alternative category while 'N Sync took home the same honors in the Top 40/pop category.
The three-hour event was hosted by the Backstreet Boys, Sisqo and Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath.
MADONNA LETS THE MUSIC PLAY: Madonna performed a 30-minute show Sunday at New York's Roseland Ballroom for what was billed as a thank you to fans. She sang five songs from her latest album "Music" for a standing room only crowd of 3,000. The free show could be a warm-up to her first U.S. tour in seven years next year, Reuters reports.
FROM PRISONER TO CROONER: He's only been out of jail for three months, but Robert Downey Jr. is all over the entertainment map. The actor is mulling over several film offers, has a recurring role on Fox's "Ally McBeal" and is about to break into the music business with the release of "A Very Ally Christmas," a spin-off album to the TV show. It arrives in stores Tuesday.
The recording studio isn't new territory for the actor. He's been recording demos since the '80s. Among the tracks on his debut record? A cover of Joni Mitchell's "River."
'STRAIGHT UP' FOR DURST: Look out for Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst, who appears on "Straight Up," a multi-artist project recorded as a tribute to former Snot vocalist Lynn Strait. Joining Durst on the project are Korn's Jonathan Davis, Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath and Incubus' Brandon Boyd.
Snot was about to make it to the big time with the release of their first record when Strait was killed in 1998 in a traffic accident. "Straight Up" arrives in stores Tuesday.
HER HEART WILL GO ON: The National Enquirer has settled a $20 million defamation lawsuit with Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion. The two parties reached a settlement over a story the tab published that said the singer was pregnant with twins. The story was false and the editors knew it. The tab promised to print an apology and a retraction in Thursday's issue.