The pReview Re-viewing of..
by Jeff Finck
The premise: The story seems to be a dramatic re-imagining of Rocky meets Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots (Rocky Sock 'em Robots?). When, in fact, it is a re-imagining of a 1956 short story simply called, Steel. A man and his son go on an emotional adventure into the world of underground robot fighting.. Basically, a PG-13 version of what would happen if Michael Vick had a son. But, they eventually get into professional robot fighting.
The fun kicks off with a hint that Charlie has some serious money problems.. and probably gambling problems.. and eventually, they toss in some possible child abandonment problems. Charlie is played by the dreamy Hugh Jackman, down on his luck and apparently, in a bit of a pickle. The first shot is of a camper outside of what appears to be a domed stadium, possibly for robot fighting. Sitting in said camper, he receives a phone call from a disembodied voice demanding money. The ever clever Charlie acts like he is saying words, but every so often drops one out of the sentence like he's driving through the Chunnel. And everyone knows, you NEVER get reception in the Chunnel! Then, Charlie abruptly ends the call.. signal lost. That voice is gonna be sooooo mad if they ever find out the cheap trickery he used!
Charlie then stands outside, all hooded up, all the while we are fed some back story about him, via voice over. You see, Charlie was once an actual professional boxer. He was ranked number 2 in the whole world and could apparently take a punch better than anyone.. much in the same way that Brendan Fraser could take any punch in Encino Man. But then someone, probably Don King, decided that people-boxing was just dumb. It was then, that someone felt the need to take Robot Wars to the next level and came up with humanoid robotic cock fighting. It may seem more humane, however, apparently the inventors had never seen the documentaries: I, Robot.. Terminator.. the Matrix.. Battlestar Gallactica.. or read the book Robopocalypse. No matter what red flags were ignored, there is a freaking 2-headed robot. Beat that, Skynet!
Charlie's son, Max (played by Dakota Goyo), a clone of every kid in every action movie, ever.. is a precarious little imp. Bastion from Neverending Story threatens to drop Charlie's keys in the sewer if he isn't allowed to come along on the Robot Beatdown 2000 (which is what I assume the robot fighting thingy will be called). Of course, Charlie caves, instead of just whupping Hogarth Hughes from The Iron Giant's ass beet red, and taking the keys like a man. So Anakin Skywalker from Episode One gets his first taste of blood.. er.. oil. And he becomes addicted! While walking Tim Murphy from Jurassic Park down to the ring of robotic carnage, Charlie explains that this isn't going to just be some video game. He explains to Dakota Fanning from War of the Worlds that robots have feelings to, and if you die in the Matrix, you die in real life. He may have just said, "This is for real." but I'd like to think he meant what *I* said. After that, a robot wakes up on a gurney and tries to punch the camera.
They cut to Charlie's gambling problem as he links into a Blue Tooth headset and a Wii U, and helms a rune encrusted robot. The tattooed behemoth is up against a Roman BattleBot from what I assume is circa 37 B.C. The Roman Rocket utterly destroys Charlie's last hope, much in the way that Zeus came along and ruined Hulk Hogan's day in No Holds Barred. But before Charlie can say, "Rip 'em!", his robot's head is catapulted into the stratosphere.. and by stratosphere, I mean ground. Directly in front of him. So he can see his failure up close and personal. The defeat leads to a bit of desperation, as Charlie asks a friend for a loan to which the friend says that Charlie is just a bad bet. This doesn't bode well for Charlie, as the friend in question is played by that guy who was in The Adjustment Bureau (Anthony Mackie).. who was ON the Adjustment Bureau, and is probably one of the best people to ask about the future. If that guy won't bet on you, take the effing hint.
Down on his luck, and being completely battered by Evangeline Lilly's defeatist talk, Chuck decides to go to a scrap yard with Richard Tyler from the Pagemaster (if you haven't caught on, I still mean Max, his son). Charlie and.. fine.. "Max".. go on a scavenger hunt for robot parts. He is planning on putting together another fighter, because lucky for him, when a robot breaks, you can just make another one, apparently. Simple as that. No questions asked. What they find, however, is.. so much.. better? They find a whole robot. Not just any robot, though, a sparring bot. This seems better from a practical standpoint because, well, the thing can take a bunch of damage.. which means it can wear the other non-stamina having opponents out. Right? The downside is that it does shite for damage. Well, after what will no doubt be a montage of cleaning the robot (called ADAM.. A.D.A.M... or AToM.. or whatever weird robot spelling they'll use), Alex O'Connell from the Mummy Returns asks.. nay, DEMANDS.. that his robot is ready to fight!
Shit gets real after that completely irresponsible demand, as we are taken on a journey through the underground circuit. Back alleys, dark dealings.. wait.. no back alleys? No dark dealings? Where are we? The fairgrounds? Like.. State Fair, fairgrounds? Yeah? Oh well.. so.. I guess the seedy underbelly is actually more like rural backyards, and wooded glens, and hay fields. What is especially neat about the underbelly is that they don't give a damn, at all, what age you are when controlling your robot. So Juni Cortez from Spy Kids gets to play faux fighter. He.. doesn't do well. This will no doubt lead to the ever popular boxing movie move, the Training Montage. Joaquin de la Vega from the Legend of Zorro demands once again. This time, it's that Charlie (remember, he's the second best human fighter in the world) use his skills and train the 1-Adam-12. Which is a bit confusing to me, because I thought the fighters were human controlled, so why would it need to learn? This indicates a subtle, deeper, underlying plot that the robots.. dun dun dun.. are SENTIENT! I warned them!!!!
The training montage happens exactly how I pictured it.. except without the pink hoodie and overweight black man chasing Atom. But we find out that Charlie agrees to help, only because of what a shitty father he's always been. Teaching his son a lesson in humility is a great first step, in my opinion! But alas, Atom & His Package starts improving! The pugilistic, father/son duo get closer. They start winning money! They start chasing tornadoes together in the heartland. The ro-boxing world at large starts to take notice! Even Charlie's ex-wife has her interest piqued. I'm assuming "ex-wife", as she's giving the harpy, back handed compliment line, "I'm trying to see a better side of you."
The trailer starts closing on a shot of the Virgin America Motor City Spectrum (say that 3 times fast) stadium with bigger than life size images of the 4 main movie robot fighters in the WRB (which has to stand for: Whaaa, Robots? BAM!). Spoiler alert, something called the Bot Boxing Twin Cities (snooze), gets to fight the monosyllabic, Atom. The music noticably begins to swell, as the ever popular movie trailer quick cuts kick in with shots of Dirk Calloway from Rushmore being awed by robots, a very near death experience involving a mud slide and Charlie saving his son, Teddy Kernan from Resurrecting the Champ... Wait. A. Minute. This is actually the same kid from Resurrecting the Champ - another boxing movie in which this kid plays someone's son. Type cast, much? The music crescendos as several fight shots are slammed together, culminating with a synchronized "jump punch" between Charlie and Atom. On the last note of music in the trailer, we get one last line.. one last, half heartedly optimistic line as Dennis the Menace questions their ability to win, to which Charlie replies, "We'll see." Boom! End of trailer.
Interesting note: the original short story, Steel was written by Richard Matheson. You may or may not recognize him as the genius writer of What Dreams May Come, A Stir of Echoes, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Bid Time Return, and I Am Legend. Even though all of those were turned into movies, some of them being not-so genius, we should expect good things from a movie of this caliber. They used real animatronic robots mixed with CG, and it actually doesn't look that bad. The only qualms I might have will be how sappy the "main" plot will get. They seem to be shoving the father/son relationship to the foreground.. like 60%? Boxing being about maybe 35%, with the rest, and this is a shot in the dark, being a love story between Jackman and Lilly. This looks like it has some pretty good family viewing potential.. and even though the rating is PG-13, this may appeal to a little bit broader of an audience. Fingers Crossed. Oh.. and one last thing.. as I've gotten through an entire Re-viewing of a movie about fighting robots and haven't mentioned Transformers even once:
(outtake: ..and then Atom gets knocked down! Before Charlie and Max can get in there and dismantle him for his failure, we can see Atom's eyes blinking.. almost screaming, "I still function!!!")
Release Date: 10/7/11