Saturday, October 15, 2011

Shawn Levy: Schmaltz and Robotics (Real Steel)

Hugh Jackman, Real Steel, Touchstone Pictures, 2011.

One last gasp of Summer heat comes ambling our way courtesy of executive producers Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg in the entertaining, uneven Real Steel. Basically an extension of Spielberg's technically steamrolling Transformers flicks, heavy on the Spielbergian sentimentality, which minus Spielberg equals schmaltz.

Essentially a rock 'em sock 'em remake of Menahem Golan's campy 80s classic Over the Top, director Shawn Levy gives us Michael Bay light set pieces of small town carnivals and underground robot boxing matches in all their nine ball, grimy biker glory. An excellent cast including Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, newcomer Dakota Goyo, Hope Davis and James Rebhorn are lost amid the sweepingly senseless mise en scene, drenched in a long-lost father-son relationship which would have felt flat in the first draft.

Aside from all of this, there is something to be said for getting lost in the sheer star magnetism that is Hugh Jackman. An old-school movie star and a damned good actor, Jackman all but carries the picture on his rippling shoulders. The boxing bots are an impressive mix of animatronix and CGI, and Danny Elfman concocts an oddly dreamy, guitar heavy score.

As almost always, the problem lies in the writing and direction. The screenplay written by John Gatins, is a drearily pedestrian affair. And Shawn Levy, a middling helmer best known for the mediocre Night at the Museum flicks, never really gets his foothold. He seems to be drifting from film to soulless film, a potential author in search of a style.

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