Chappie — a movie about a robot with the same consciousness as humans — never seems able to resolve a rash of internal conflicts. Is it unashamed B-movie trash? Is it a goofy send-up that turns a robot into a silly child? Is it a descendant of Short Circuit or of RoboCop? Is it something else entirely?
Because it never answers these questions Chappie turns into another junkyard of a movie that takes what might generously be called a casual approach to logic.
R for violence, language and brief nudity
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
For director Neill Blomkamp (District 9 and Elysium), the third time hardly qualifies as a charm.
So what do we get?
Blomkamp’s story about a robot who’s given consciousness and then is captured by thugs features:
- An over-amped Dev Patel as an engineer who has figured out how to make a fully conscious robot
- Hugh Jackman as a brooding former military man who wants to make the ultimate fighting robot, but whose creation has been put on hold
- Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja, South African rappers who belong to a group called Die Antwoord. They appear as a team of tattooed miscreants who are softened to the point of redemption by their contact with Chappie
- Sigourney Weaver, in an entirely negligible role, playing the head of a company that builds police robots for the city of Johannesburg
When the movie opens, the city’s crime rate is down and the robot cops seem to be functioning with great efficiency.
This germ of an idea could have provided the basis for an interesting merger of sci-fi and police procedural.
Instead, Blomkamp vents his impulse for rampant action coupled with moments of oddball comedy in which the innocent robot refers to the shady characters who are trying to teach it their felonious ways as “mommy” and “daddy.”
Chappie trying to mimic the strut and speech of the street-wise gangstas who have taken control of him seems puerile.
These ploys may have been intended to be amusing, but to me, they looked dumb, particularly because they’re repeated ad nauseam as the movie builds (or perhaps stumbles) toward the moment when Johannesburg’s robot police force is hacked and criminals run unimpeded throughout the city’s streets.
One more thing before we leave the world of artificial intelligence behind.
I’m sick of seeing real newspeople in works of fiction. Chappie opens with CNN’s Anderson Cooper narrating a feature about the way robots have helped reduce crime in South Africa. Cooper sets the stage for what’s to come, but it’s time newspeople gave more thought to the ways in which they’re used to lend an aura of authenticity to otherwise preposterous movies.
Such participation may give a movie an air of credibility, but it doesn’t necessarily do the same for the participating newspeople.
Back to Chappie.
At times, Blomkamp tosses an idea at us, say when Chappie — who’s rather lithe for a robot and is voiced by Sharlto Copley — wonders why Deon bothered to make him in the first place if he’s doomed to expire when his batteries, which can’t be replaced, run out.
Just what we needed, a reminder of another movie, a bit of A.I.-like poignancy?
Chappie, by the way, ends in a way that seems to open the door for a sequel. I couldn’t help thinking that a second movie might be more interesting than the one I just watched.
That doesn’t mean I’m advocating for another helping. Take it as a statement about the inadequacies of this first installment.