There are some clever and provocative ideas about artificial intelligence swirling around in Chappie, the latest feature from the District 9 director Neill Blomkamp, but much of the film is derivative and messy.
The early scenes are in the mould of RoboCop. We are in South Africa in the near future. The "world's first robotic police force" keeps order in the townships. These droids are manufactured by an arms company headed by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). Her employees include idealistic Deon (Dev Patel), who dreams of creating a robot with a human consciousness, and the macho Vincent (Hugh Jackman).
The hero of the film is Chappie (played by Sharlto Copley), the robot programmed by Deon to think and feel like a human. The best part of the film focuses on his growing pains. Poor Chappie is a good robot at heart but risks falling under bad influence. It is a case of nature versus nurture as Deon encourages him to be gentle and creative while the gangsters who control him teach him gangster slang and try to coach him to take part in a heist.
Blomkamp plays skilfully on our emotions, making us feel as attached to the young robot as we might do to the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. The liveliest performances come from South African rap-ravers Yolandi Visser and Watkin Tudor-Jones as Chappie's bad-ass adoptive parents. They dress like extras from Mad Max and behave as if they belong with Fagin's gang in Oliver Twist. Like us, they can't help but take a shine to their robot child.
Jackman is playing the villain. It's an unsympathetic and one-dimensional role for a star of his magnitude. Sigourney Weaver is seen only fleetingly and the action sequences are shot in a strictly routine style reminiscent of Call of Duty computer games.
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