– By Paulie Spiceflow –
2015 is off to a pretty bad start. Jupiter Ascending bombed and it looks like the second major sci-fi title of the year will bomb as well. Chappie is one part Short Circuit, but the other part is a bad version of RoboCop. It is confused, unoriginal, and utterly misuses what are otherwise big ideas. Neill Blomkamp needed to spend a lot more time developing this screenplay.
The movie starts off focused on a genius programmer named Deon Wilson. He works for Tetravaal, a South African security company that designed the first police robots called scouts. The scouts are a highly successful tool in the fight against the violent gangs of the nation’s inner cities. As a side project, Deon works on his ultimate creation, true artificial intelligence. Before he gets a chance to test it, he is kidnapped by thugs who demand he shut down the scouts so they can execute a heist. He instead, gives them Chappie, his AI installed onto a damaged scout robot. The movie then shifts to Chappie’s journey of self-discovery in the broken and flawed world of Johannesburg. The setting is an obvious contradiction, a successful robot police force and an out of control violent cyberpunk underworld that terrorizes the good people of Johannesburg. These two things can’t be true at the same time.
The AI is a massive program installed onto a scout. It begins as a child that doesn’t know anything yet learns just about everything it needs to be the equivalent of an eight year old human child in a matter of hours. The thugs essentially raise it yet somehow it emerges as a compassionate being. The criminal characters were mystifying, shifting between psychopathic and caring people in mere minutes. They carry florescent painted weapons for some reason, execute violent crimes in a city that is supposed to be close to crime free. Despite the success of the scouts, the criminal elements of the city seem quite comfortable.
Chappie sounds suspiciously like Johnny-5 of the Short Circuit movies. In fact, the robot’s experience is nearly identical to Johnny-5’s experience in New York City in the second movie, right down to the painted tattoos and bling hanging from his shoulders. Director and Writer Neill Blomkamp even used a Mexican-American actor for one of the thugs, to help train Chappie to steal cars nearly identical to the Mexican gang that convinced Johnny-5 to steal car stereos.
Blomkamp throws in an antagonist named Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), a rival programmer trying to sell his massive robot that looks like the ED-209 from RoboCop. In fact, change out the scout for RoboCop and Johannesburg for Detroit and you got the movie RoboCop.
Vincent Moore seems to think the police need a robot with heavy firepower, complete with a minigun and cluster bombs. Exactly why the police would ever need cluster bombs is a mystery. There is also the question of why a major security company would put any money into such a ridiculous proposal, let alone a man who is clearly a sociopath. Sigourney Weaver plays the CEO of Tetravaal and does a reasonably good job in a limited and largely stereotypical role.
The exploration of powerful themes like artificial intelligence and consciousness are raced through to avoid any real insights. the movie rolls through several of the greatest discoveries in human history in a matter of days, as if they are simple problems we can solve with a few laptops.
The climax is extremely violent and somehow transforms the characters into selfless fighters for some unknown cause, all against the powerful moose robot. Violent criminals are prepared to stand up to the war machine despite being obviously over-matched. How am I to believe violent criminals are somehow selfless and suicidal? The whole scene made no sense and seemed more of a flimsy pretext to install some good old fashion gun play and robot fighting.
To sum up: Chappie is a blending of Short Circuit and RoboCop in a thoroughly dull and garbled manner. The acting, both human and robot, is easily forgettable. The climax and conclusion don’t make much sense and don’t leave you with any profound thought. Instead, it is a convenient tying up of loose ends. Chappie is not worth the $8 I paid to go, a major disappointment from the director who brought us District 9.