In the near future, robots have replaced humans as pugilistic combatants of the sport. Former boxer Charlie Kenton, ekes out a living in illegal boxing matches between robots to pay his debts to loan sharks. Naturally his estranged son, who he hasn’t seen in years, is thrust into his life all of a sudden at this critical juncture. Together they attempt to succeed with an obsolete, sparring-partner robot they rescue from a garbage lot. If the classic toy, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots were turned into a movie, this would be it.
On the surface, the boxing scenes among the robotic rivals are incredible. There is a real organic feel to the robot boxing as genuine animatronic robots were used in close ups and mixed with totally believable computer animation. There’s a countrified atmosphere to the narrative as well that’s altogether unexpected. His original robot goes head to head against an actual bull at a county fair in the first match up. The battles are crisp and fluid. Later on the chronicle focuses on Atom, the disregarded robot they find buried in the dirt at the junkyard. There’s real drama in whether spunky Atom can triumph.
But why must the little boy be such a royal pain? His part (at least from a storyline standpoint) is reminiscent of the young son in the Sylvester Stallone flick Over the Top (which has always been something of a guilty pleasure for me). While that child was merely wimpy, this child is insolent and bossy. That’s a lot worse. He essentially wears the pants in his relationship with his father who is consistently schooled by this punk kid at every turn. It’s depressing seeing a macho actor like Hugh Jackman emasculated over and over throughout the film by this little brat. I’m not usually an advocate of corporal punishment, but I’d make an exception in this tykes case. He’s unbearable.
Luckily the special effects make up for the lack of character development. Hugh Jackman is a charismatic screen presence and Evangeline Lilly is quite appealing as well as his love interest. But there are some inconsistencies in the script. It’s difficult to tell what’s really more crucial, the robot or the human who comands the robot. And why do some robots have a whole team controlling them while others just have one person? Is the quality of the robot even that important? Elsewhere, it’s hinted at that the robot may genuinely experience feelings as a human would, but that suggestion is never developed. If you don’t get too bogged down in those deficiencies, there is definitely some entertainment value in the robot boxing scenes. And honestly, that’s why you watch a movie like this anyway, right?