Ro­bot Rocky sur­pris­ingly riv­et­ing

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Real Steel (M) ★★★★■

Di­rec­tors : Shawn Levy ( Night at

the Mu­seum)

Star­ring : Hugh Jack­man, Dakota Goyo, Evan­ge­line Lilly, Kevin Du­rand

A hero made from pre­cious met­tle THE more you pitch Real Steel to a prospec­tive viewer, the worse it sounds.

It’s a Rocky for ro­bots. That’s right, a box­ing pic­ture in which giz­mos belt the nuts and bolts out of each other. Not sold? Not sur­prised. How about a Fight Club for

Trans­form­ers, but with all the noisy, toysy, boysy stuff thrown out? And with a rip­ping story plus a few im­pres­sive flour­ishes of creative flair thrown in for good mea­sure? Still not sold? Fair enough. Those last two Trans­form­ers tur­keys have left ev­ery­one hold­ing a grudge against CGI fight­ing ma­chines. Nev­er­the­less, I am here to tell you that

Real Steel is much bet­ter than it had to be to win over any doubters. It is also one of the most ex­cit­ing and en­joy­able ac­tion crowd-pleasers of 2011.

That said, Real Steel does get off to a slug­gish start. How­ever, a lot of the ma­te­rial that weighs down the first act is nec­es­sary to ex­plain the un­usual set­ting of the pic­ture.

The story takes place at an undis­closed time in the near fu­ture. Per­haps a decade or two from now. For rea­sons never ex­plained, one of the most pop­u­lar sports is ro­bot box­ing.

Char­lie Ken­ton ( Hugh Jack­man) is scroung­ing a liv­ing on the fringes, pro­gram­ming and op­er­at­ing ro­bots for bouts at coun­try fair­grounds and seedy city hov­els.

A former boxer, Char­lie has failed to make a go of the busi­ness – mainly be­cause he bets too much on the wrong bots.

In a corny turn of events, Char­lie be­comes sad­dled with the tem­po­rary care of his es­tranged 11-year-old son, Max ( Dakota Goyo).

To keep the kid oc­cu­pied as they move from town to town, Char­lie lets Max have his own pet ro­bot to play with.

Max nick­names his rust-bucket buddy ‘‘ Atom’’ and – wouldn’t you know it – it isn’t long be­fore this seem­ingly ob­so­lete fight­ing ma­chine is ris­ing through the ranks for a shot at the cham­pi­onship belt.

So far, so cliched, right? Well, yes and no. Although the ten­sions be­tween Char­lie and Max are some­what forced, there is a clear bond be­tween Jack­man and his young co-star that makes their char­ac­ters click on a truly per­sonal level.

Bet­ter still, di­rec­tor Shawn Levy stages the all-im­por­tant ring­side fight se­quences with an eye to im­pos­ing a per­son­al­ity upon the heroic Atom.

Al­most mirac­u­lously, you find your­self cheer­ing on the in­ex­pres­sive and silent ro­bot as he read­ies him­self for a cli­mac­tic smack­down with Zeus, the mean­est, most mon­strous heavy­weight ma­chine of them of all.

Real Steel should not work on any level, but it suc­ceeds on many thanks to its ap­peal­ing, un­pre­ten­tious and de­cep­tively in­volv­ing ap­proach to its tale.

steel­get­sreal. com

Now show­ing Vil­lage Cine­mas

RO­BOT TRAIN­ERS: Evan­ge­line Lilly with Hugh Jack­man ( left).

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