LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - In a near-future Johannesburg, crime is at an all-time low thanks to the South African artificial intelligence police force. The robots' creator, Deon Wilson (played by Dev Patel), sees potential for these robots to be self aware.
After the rejection of the company's CEO (Sigourney Weaver), and in competition with his rival engineer Vincent (Hugh Jackman), Deon steals a hindered scout to test his theory on artificial intelligence. But gangsters Ninja and Yolandi (supposedly playing themselves from the South African hip hop band Die Antwood) intercept Deon's robot to use it to perform a cash heist to bail themselves out of a bounty placed on their heads.
Deon insists his creation is capable of humanlike intelligence and thus the story progresses into the sponge-like Chappie being brought up in three different parenting styles. Deon wishes to rear Chappie like an academic student with stories and paintings. Yolandi, who insists on Chappie calling her "Mommy" is his maternal figure and Ninja trains Chappie to become a thug, consisting of slouching while walking, stealing imported cars and wearing blingy chains.
+ Rated R
+ 120 minutes
+ Starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver
+ 2 stars out of 4
Copley, friend to and constant collaborator with Blomkamp, gives life to Chappie with a childlike innocence in his black-sheep character arc. Chappie is torn between either becoming the "top dog" or the "dead dog" as Ninja ever so eloquently places it. Chappie is brought up by Deon and Yolandi to be a human where Ninja sees him as a cold, efficient machine. And over to the side is Jackman's character hell-bent on his monstrous robot prototype becoming the "top dog" on Johannesburg's mean streets, dependent on human intelligence and totally void of free will.
An artistic strength of Blomkamp is that he brings his love of science fiction to meet the feeling and essence of his native South Africa to the screen. Yet these strengths unfortunately do not over-compensate for an underdeveloped story. Where there should be space for the audience to feel for Chappie's plight in understanding who he is, the film constantly bounces from gun-wielding and sci-fi weapon action that eventually has the film feeling like a teenage boy's video game.
Blomkamp is unquestionably a captivating, visual filmmaker. Yet for movie fans who are familiar with his masterful parable "District 9," it is likely audiences will leave the theater with about as much life as an artificially intelligent robot. The obvious plot points of nature vs. nurture are underwhelming and there is just a continuous sense of emptiness where there should be something more satisfying. It's a lot of bolt and little brain.
Here's to hoping Blomkamp's upcoming vision to the addition of the "Alien" series will be a much different story.
Chappie is now playing in theaters nationwide.