**1/2 out of ****
Did you ever see Short Circuit 2? If not, don’t bother. I think South African director, Neill Blomkamp’s latest grungy sci-fi film, Chappie seems to take some inspiration from that bad ‘80s movie about an innocent impressionable robot who gets exploited by criminals –except it’s way more violent. I get the sense that Blomkamp is usually channeling the kind of fantasy fiction popular during his childhood. He loves clunky high-tech machinery set against a bleak futuristic landscape of gritty impoverished life. Like quite a few movies from that era, his films also feature content, which interest kids but come with R-rated ultra-violence attached.
Chappie is set in a future Johannesburg where the police force is made up of unstoppable robots. A desperate criminal gang (played by the South African “rap-rave” group, Die Antwoord) abducts a scientist (Dev Patel) under the impression that he has the ability to thwart the robots from interfering with their crimes. However, it turns out that the scientist was in the middle of an unauthorized experiment to imbue a damaged robot with real consciousness. When activated, it has the mind of a child, with the ability to learn fast. The gang keeps it, naming him Chappie.
Like his hideous, yet mistreated aliens in District 9, Blomkamp has once again succeeded in winning my empathy for a non-human character, which is computer-generated. He also continues to shoot CGI filled movies with seamless results.
Despite his gifts as one of the few effects-driven directors who know how to create a convincing environment, Blomkamp, for the third time, fails to develop his thought-provoking plot past a half-baked stage. Just like his other films, there’s a point where the story turns into brainless tiresome action brought on by dumb characters. In this film Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver lend their star power as moronic antagonists in an attempt to boost the film’s box office potential.
In spite of all the inexplicable story developments, I still kind of liked Chappie. There’s something endearingly weird about giving Die Antwoord a vehicle film through big budget sci-fi with a sweet-natured robot character. Still, when is Blomkamp going to grow up and use his abilities for a story that makes sense?