Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman, Yolandi Visser and Sigourney Weaver in a film by Neil Blomkamp.
In the near future, a mechanized police force patrols the streets and deals with lawbreakers — but when one police droid is stolen and given new programming, he acquires the ability to feel and think for himself. While the robot named “Chappie (Sharlto Copley),” puzzles out human behavior, the authorities begin to see him as a danger to mankind and order; they will stop at nothing to ensure that Chappie is the last of his kind.
Although “Chappie” is a bold attempt at pulp action filmmaking, it doesn’t have the strength to carry the weight of the big ideas or social commentary it presents, nor does it have the intellect to pull off the sort of social satire that made “Robocop” (its most obvious inspiration) such a classic film.
What it does have is a playful life to it, a silly irreverence and a lot of janky science.
“Chappie” follows the story of a young hotshot engineer named Deon (Dev Patel) who has been the lead for a series of mechanized armed forces used to patrol crime in Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite this success, what he really wants to do is create the first robot that uses artificial intelligence and is able to think, feel and discriminate on their own. Deon finally cracks the code for artificial intelligence and tries to test it on a broken robot, but his plans are deviated when a trio of criminals kidnap him. Thinking that he has the key to turn the army of police bots off so that they can stage a heist and pay back a gang lord, Deon makes a deal with the criminals to outfit the broken robot with the AI capability and give it to them to use.
As the robot learns more about its surroundings and its own sense of self, Deon keeps revisiting in order to teach Chappie how to be a productive member of society and to find a way to get the robot back into his possession. Meanwhile, the gang tries to initiate Chappie into a life of crime; one member however, Yolandi (Yolandi Visser, the other half of South African rap group Die Antwoord) tries to be an actual parent to the robot.
While this is going on, a jealous ex-soldier who works with Deon named Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), tries to find a way to unleash his own automated killing machine in the field of police investigation.
There’s a lot of mess going on in the film and it’s certainly a unique direction for this kind of movie to tell a story about child rearing and advancing science within the confines of a cop thriller. It was surprising how little of the movie is even about a larger world’s reaction to Chappie or what the downside of having such an intelligent machine in the world would mean. There’s no sense of apocalyptic dread, such as in “The Terminator” films. By the time the world gets wind of Chappie, it’s under the worst circumstances and is misunderstood as simply a police robot gone rogue.
The film does a lot of things and dabbles within a plethora of ideas too quickly for any of them to breathe. However, the film is a nice ride and campy in the best ways. It’s full of kitschy slow-mo takes, intense shootouts and a wink-wink offbeat humor — and thank God for it. Otherwise, you’d be stuck with a movie that is an unorganized, mis-focused mess.
Chappie opens today in select theaters.