Robot science-fiction that dovetails into the typical action cliché scrapyard. Chappie borrows ideas from the “Robocop” pictures and “A.I.” and then gives you hope it’s going to build on them, but broad and simplistic writing keeps it down. Writer-director Neill Blomkamp is compelled by Johannesburg, South Africa where he shot his debut “District 9,” but all he really tells you this time is that, well, it’s a messed up place. What we see of Johannesburg is the robot factory, some villain’s hideout in a reservoir, some highways, and long shots of the outside city. There’s one scene of carjackings in a high-class neighborhood. But so what? This film has a narrow vision when it comes to everything.
Violent criminals have ravaged social order until an experimental robot crime unit has been instilled to provide social order (á la “Robocop”). Dev Patel is one of the computer tech geniuses who builds a prototype that can think for itself and evolve its own consciousness – the experiment is named Chappie (Sharlto Copley, voice). I was rooting for Patel’s character until at a pivotal moment he decides he’s not going to ring the police, but attempt to cooperate with some very lunkhead bad guys who have kidnapped Chappie with the intent to use him for a heist. They can easily put a bullet in Patel’s head at any time, but don’t. Patel’s character has no free will, but is controlled by a predestined screenplay.
Hugh Jackman, with a mullet, can sometimes terribly play rageaholics. Here he is a tech guy with a murky vendetta. I really have no idea if his character is pro-robot, or not, since at the end what he’s really operating is a radio powered attack chopper, that’s also, robotic. I don’t think his character understands the irony of that. Sigourney Weaver, the big honcho of the company, somehow plays the dumbest character of her career, always making command decisions that come far too late. Chappie is a character, too, but under the guidance of those horrendous nitwit bad guys is shaped into a confused robot that speaks in vulgar street slang. I wanted to reprogram Chappie by sitting him in front of a morning viewing of Sesame Street.
When I realized “Chappie” wasn’t going to work, I knew that I was going to have to sit there the rest of the time and just wait for it to come to its foregone action pyrotechnic conclusion. As usual, there are lots of explosions that shred apart vehicles. Of course none of the key characters get blown up, but instead each character gets three lives until bullets or knives ultimately eviscerate them in close-ups. It’s predictable of who will get spared. The fate of the titular Chappie is supposed to be a hearttugger, but when the story doesn’t have brains then I could care less.
I have no idea why some didn’t like Blomkamp’s previous film “Elysium,” a very lean action film with big metaphorical ideas about corporate powers cruelly exploiting the underclasses. In terms of smarts, “Chappie” is a big step backwards for this director.
120 Minutes. Rated R.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / ACTION FANS / LATE NIGHT NOISE
Film Cousins: “Robocop” (1987); “A.I.” (2001); “District 9” (2009); “Robocop” (2014).