District 9 and Elysium director Neill Blomkamp’s latest film Chappie has a distinctly recycled feel to it. I spent most of the film’s running time picking out all the references to other sci-fi movies until I was too bored to care anymore.
The action unfolds in a not-so-distant future where a robotic police force successfully serves and protects a chaotic Johannesburg that is perennially on the verge of anarchy. Deon (Dev Patel), the ambitious engineer who designed these Robocop-style crime-fighters aspires to create a fully operational sentient model that can think for itself, but he’s barred from doing so by his chilly boss (Sigourney Weaver). When he creates one on the sly, however, the child-like droid, Chappie (played via motion capture by Sharlto Copley), is captured by a gang of criminals who mostly teach him violence and bad manners. As it turns out, that training comes in handy when Chappie must fight back against a lumbering assault robot named Moose, designed by envious rival engineer Vincent (Hugh Jackman) who is no fan of artificial intelligence.
Blomkamp borrows ideas and themes liberally – from his own previous films, from Robocop, The Terminator and Westworld, and also from Philip K Dick novels – but Chappie fails to rise above the clichés of its genre. It’s loud, silly, and never offers much more than a few moments of irreverent humor, and the occasional thrilling set piece. The big problem is that Chappie’s transformation from impressionable sweet-natured child to lethal killing machine isn’t emotionally satisfying. And Blomkamp doesn’t give us any character that’s truly worth rooting for.
I’m going with two out of five for Chappie. It’s derivative and not particularly fun. Hardly the best way to spend two hours on a lazy weekend.