A revolutionary new robot named Chappie, programmed with the ability to think and feel, winds up in the hands of three thugs on the rough streets of the Johanessburg of the future. The eager-to-please bot descends from sweet and innocent to hard-core gangster when the gang lifestyle becomes all he knows.
In the Johannesburg of the future where crime is kept under control by an elite army of police robots, a revolutionary new robot named Chappie, programmed with the ability to think and feel by a well-meaning engineer, is hunted by a ruthless and ambitious ex-marine looking to use the the technology for his own greedy ends.
A revolutionary new robot named Chappie, programmed with the ability to think and feel, learns that his battery, which only lasts five days, is irreplacable. Angry with his maker who seems to have created him just so he could “die”, Chappie must race against time to uncover the secrets of human consciousness and figure out how to transfer his own consciousness into a new body before his battery runs out.
By my count, there are at least three ideas for a movie here. One or two of them may even be good. Neill Blomkamp didn’t seem to know which of these three movies he wanted to make though so tried to cram them all into one that he called- you guessed it- Chappie.
It’s hard to argue that this blend of Short Circuit and RoboCop is anything but a complete mess. The plot is so needlessly complicated that Blomkamp barely has any time to develop any of his ideas or explore any of the themes that he seems to promise at the beginning. All the different subplots make dramatic shifts in tone unavoiadable as Chappie takes us from sappy to gritty and back again, ending with a final shootout that is hilariously and shamelessly over-the-top. Some of my favourite movies mix styles and juggle multiple storylines but this mix is more noisy than eclectic.
It doesn’t help that South African hip hop artists Ninja and Yolandi Visser are cast as Chappie’s gangster Mommy and Daddy. They’re entrusted with much of the emoitonal impact of the movie (so badly acted that they reminded me of the Jackie Chan movies that I used to watch dubbed into English when I was in high school) while Oscar-nominated actors Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver are given almost nothing to do.
Chappie is tough to swallow and leaves an even worse aftertaste but I give it credit for trying. Nothing that Blomkamp attempts here really works but, as we approach yet another summer of uninspired blockbusters, it’s easy to feel almost thankful for an action movie that dares to aim so high. I don’t think we’ll see another quite like it this year.