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Designated Hero: Charlie. When he hears about his ex girlfriend's death and that his son is left, he reacts with annoyance at the burden to him and indicates he knowingly left his girlfriend while she was pregnant. Then he signs him over to the boy's aunt and uncle for 100 grand, furthering the deadbeat dad vibe. Then he uses the money to buy another robot sight unseen that he knows nothing about, then takes it into a fight and gets it destroyed because he hadn't bothered to learn to operate it first or have the humility to go for a smaller prize. He then gets the nerve to not pay his rent at the gym he works at (and his childhood friend owns), then lambasts her for thinking of selling it, claiming her deceased father would be pissed off at her. He leaves Max in the pouring rain at a junk yard next to a deadly cliff to carry the robot he found after surviving a fall off a cliff. Only after this point, 45 minutes in, does he start to act even remotely decent.
Though this was deliberate to show just how much of a Jerkass Charlie was. However, he gets better as the movie progresses.
Hilarious in Hindsight: At the time, it seemed like this movie would fall into Zeerust turf. Then Robot Combat League came out, featuring eight foot humanoid robots using Motion Capture Mecha technology. While not nearly as advanced as the film, it's still surprisingly close. Extra hilarity comes from the fact the robot Crash, a more 'kiddy' looking robot with being a Stone Wall as its main strength and controlled by a parent child Determinator team, ultimately could prove to be a pretty good stand in for Atom.
Ricky already established himself as a Jerkass by letting Charlies robot be destroyed, but he only truly damned himself when he brings two or three other thugs to jump Charlie and Max and, upon learning that Charlie is now able to pay him back, beats the shit out of him anyway, not even caring about the money. When he learns from Max that Charlie's his father, he beats him harder. And then he and his boys steal all the money.
The film's very premise is One Must Fall2097, and it's linked to "Steel," the Twilight Zone episode the film is based on. Or the Richard Matheson story that was based on. The film takes a few elements from the Matheson short story: robot boxers replacing humans, the main character is a former prizefighter, the climactic challenge is between the protagonist's fight and a current champion, and that the protagonist physically fights the robot himself. In the book this last part doesn't end well, while the film is a straight up underdog sports movie.
The premise of humans being replaced in fighting sports was previously done on screen in 1989 with Arena, with aliens replacing humans instead of robots. Robot Jox also definitely has a hand in the proceedings too.