Posted by Joel Copling on March 6, 2015

"Chappie" is a movie that has no trust in either its titular robot of a main character or in the actor playing him, in this case Sharlto Copley via the motion-capture technique. This is a movie with potentially heavy themes (the nature of existence, the nurturing of that into something cultured and intelligent, the idea of confronting and interacting with one's creator) made so simplistic by director Neill Blomkamp's script--also written by Terri Tatchell--that it is almost insane. Until a particularly nasty (in a good way), ten-minute denouement that presents the haunting extension of whatever the movie is trying and failing to say, this is gutless sci-fi, through-and-through. And it didn't have to be.

Chappie is a thinking, feeling, entirely self-conscious robot, the product of a three-year experiment led by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), progenitor of Johannesburg's current police robots. Of course, the idea of a self-conscious robot that (who?) has the personality and feelings of a human isn't exactly popular with the higher-ups in Tetravaal Robotics (Sigourney Weaver has nothing to do as its CEO, and Hugh Jackman dons a hilarious mullet as a psychotic co-worker of Deon's who becomes butthurt when the latter's experiments threaten the optimization of his own creation, a bulky tank of a robot that he can control with his mind). Feeling gypped, Deon's plan is to implement the technology in a recently damaged policebot.

Enter Ninja and Yolandi, a pair of dating thugs played by a pair of dating rave-rap musicians also named Ninja and Yolandi (both of whom, on the evidence here, should stick with their day jobs) that semi-kidnap Deon. Ninja becomes the corruptive father-figure to Chappie's impressionable child, while Yolandi becomes the nurturing mother. They instill questionable beliefs into Chappie's programming (that death is really just "sleeping," for instance, or that crime really does pay). By the time the third act arrives, however, we should be pretty clear on the fact that Chappie rejects their bad influence for Deon's good kind, but it matters neither way in the face of a bombastic action finale involving sacrifices without weight and a main character the film establishes to be "indestructible." At least Copley mesmerizes in a potentially limiting role, mastering the robotic movements as is necessary, while the final ten minutes engage some truly haunting ideas involving a kind of immortality. It's the getting-there that takes its toll, and Blomkamp builds to a brush with greatness by offering up a clunky bore.

Film Information

Sharlto Copley (Chappie), Dev Patel (Deon Wilson), Ninja (Ninja), Yo-Landi Visser (Yolandi), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Amerika), Hugh Jackman (Vincent Moore), Sigourney Weaver (Michelle Bradley), Brandon Auret (Hippo).

Directed by Neill Blomkamp and written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell.

Rated R (violence, language, brief nudity).

120 minutes.

Released on March 6, 2015.