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'Real Steel' a punishing ordeal

BY SDG

| Posted 10/7/11 at 2:05 PM

 

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Real Steel is just plain unpleasant to sit through. So much of the movie is spent amid screaming crowds and abrasive music, often in dark, trashy dives, watching giant robots pound each other into scrap metal. The robot boxing is surprisingly good (Sugar Ray Leonard was a consultant). It’s the humans that are unpleasant.

Just now, on a whim, I Googled "Real Steel" "white trash", wondering how often discussion of the film would include that term. Here is a result I didn’t expect:

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and DreamWorks SKG are currently shooting the feature film ‘Real Steel’ starring Hugh Jackman in the Detroit, Michigan area. The film’s extras casting director, Tracy Dixon, is seeking men of any age or ethnicity who have unusual hair styles such as dreadlocks, bald, long hair, etc. They are also seeking white trash, rough looking types, seedy types, criminal looking people etc.

“White trash, rough looking types, seedy types, criminal looking people etc.” What do you know—the movie is full of people just like that. To be fair, the later fight scenes are set in classier joints—more like the arena where the big Sparta tournament was staged in Warrior. The screaming fans are less seedy, but the music is still abrasive: Beastie Boys, 50 Cent, Eminem and others whose names you may be more familiar with than I am, if you’re the target audience of the film, which obviously I am not.

Who is the target audience? Here is a leading indicator: Jackman’s costar, Dakota Goyo, plays an 11-year-old boy named Max (Goyo just turned 12, but he was 11 during filming). The age of the kid is a good indication of the age of the putative target audience. What parent wants to take their 11-year-old to a movie where white trash, rough looking types, seedy types, criminal looking people etc hang around screaming in dark, trashy dives with loud, abrasive music? Not to mention the violence—human on human as well as bot on bot.

I exclude, of course, parents like Charlie (Jackman), a former boxer turned small-time robot boxing promoter who has never met his son. (The goofy premise: The story is set in a near future when human pugilism has been eclipsed by robot combat.) The first time Charlie meets Max is after a custody hearing at which Charlie has been forced to put in an appearance by the death of an old girlfriend he hasn’t seen in over a decade, leaving Charlie with custody of Max.

Charlie’s sole intention in showing up is to sign Max over to his late girlfriend’s first available relative who wants him, which is Max’s aunt Debra (Hope Davis), who is married to an older gentleman named Marvin (James Rebhorn) with lots of money. Noting the lots of money part, Charlie develops a second intention: He still wants to sign Max over, but he surreptitiously hits up Marvin for money. That’s right: Charlie wants to sell his kid.

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