dir Neill Blomkamp
scr Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
prd Simon Kinberg, Neill Blomkamp
with Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Brandon Auret, Johnny Selema, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, Maurice Carpede, Anderson Cooper
release US/UK 6.Mar.15, SA 13.Mar.15
15/South Africa Columbia 2h00
Bad role models: Ninja, Cantillo and Chappie

copley patel jackman
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Chappie Big existential ideas and astonishing effects make this South African thriller worth a look, even if the script creaks loudly due to several contrived elements. Blomkamp is such an ambitious filmmaker that his work demands to be talked about, and he assembles this movie carefully both as a popcorn adventure and a darker exploration of consciousness.

In 2016 Johannesburg, police turn to robotic cops to bring order to the streets. This has made tech-company CEO Michelle (Weaver) very wealthy, although it's annoyed her engineer Vincent (Jackman), who prefers his massive Moose assault robot to the human-sized Scouts filling the streets. Then just as their creator Deon (Patel) works out how to make them truly sentient, he's kidnapped by hot-headed thug Ninja (played by Ninja) and his cohorts (Visser and Cantillo). And they proceed to teach his prototype Chappie (Copley) how to be a criminal so they can pay off their debts.

As with District 9 and Elysium, Blomkamp uses effects so seamlessly that having robots walking around feels eerily natural. And as Chappie's personality develops, Copley gives a remarkable performance mimicking his captors' physicality and vocal patterns. Strangely, much of the robotic dialog is murky and unintelligible, as if creating clear-sounding voice-boxes is beyond these genius nerds. But the physicality makes up for this, as does the sense that Chappie is a free-thinking creature.

To establish this, Blomkamp indulges in a too-deliberate plot that carefully puts Chappie in danger, fighting for his own survival, while making sure to reveal his emotional and artistic sensibilities. All of this is fascinating, offering new angles on the issue of artificial intelligence. But the script must also include a villain, and as Vincent sets out to violently bring Chappie down while boosting his own invention, the central story is taken over by a less-engaging subplot. Massive shootouts and chaotic action mayhem are staged with energy and resonance, but they seem beside the point.

Performances are strong across the board, with Ninja and Visser adding a blast of unpredictability in their gonzo characters. And the way the film plays with ideas about the souls of both Chappie and these rather simpleton thugs is fascinating and darkly important. But the truth is that Blomkamp probably couldn't have secured funding for a more thoughtful exploration of created sentience without all of the big action blockbuster nonsense. In other words, there's the nagging feeling that he had to sell his soul to Hollywood.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Mar.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall