Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver
Sentient robots, artificial intelligence and the idea whether consciousness is a tangible, transferable asset which can help humans – or, in this case, machines – live forever are ideas that Hollywood has been toying with for long.
Sometimes this movie-making behemoth comes up with films which have robots as their protagonists and yet are so human, even as they give you something to ponder about. Others are plain disasters. Unfortunately, Chappie belongs to the latter class.
We will give you that the film had an interesting premise. Blomkamp (District 9) is back at his favourite hunting ground, Johannesburg, which is now being policed by robotic scouts. Their Maker, erm, is nerdy scientist Deon (Dev Patel) who has now figured out how to make the scouts sentient, and write poetry. When his bossypants superior, CEO of an arms manufacturing company, Michelle (Sigourney Weaver) refuses to entertain the idea, he steals a robot which was hit in an operation and is about to be destroyed.
It is a big day for stealing and kidnapping in J’burg as before Deon can haul his stolen wares home, he is abducted by gangsters Ninja and Yolande (Ninja and Yo-Landi from rap-rave band Die Antwoord). The gangsters want the robot to help them in a multi-million dollar gang heist.
What they get instead is a machine version of Jar Jar Binks, who is like a child and needs to be taught everything. Deon’s hopes of a poetry-spewing, watercolour-painting robot go up in smoke when Chappie (that’s what he is named) adopts Ninja and Yolande as his mommy and daddy. While Yolande comes down with a sudden attack of maternal hormones, Ninja starts training him for the heist. This rather unconventional learning curve (Deon teaching painting and Ninja shooting) makes for the rather long, and rather boring, middle of this untenably long film.
Oh, and we are forgetting Hugh Jackman here (although, god knows the actor would want us to). In a role which he must have taken up to bolster the ol’ bank balance, Jackman is a fascist, war-mongering engineer who also works at the arms manufacturer. His machine looks like something stolen from RoboCop and can flatten an entire block with the push of a button.
As Deon’s scouts succeed, his machine is left in the cold storage. So in the end, the two machines will collide, revealing why the arms manufacturer took a really wise decision to keep Jackman’s moose in the cold storage. As a viewer, it also makes you very happy, because the film will be over soon and you can go home.
One-dimensional characters, silly storyline and jerky narrative can do that to you. Terrible acting by otherwise good actors can also do that to you. Jackman and Weaver seem to have called in their performances. The best thing you can say about Dev Patel is The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (releasing here soon). In fact, Ninja and eyebrow-less Yolande’s idiosyncratic performances may be the best thing about the film.
As for Chappie, he learns a lot in the film about cruel and heartless humans, about technology, about rap, but not clear English. And after a while, it starts jarring on you.
The film borrows heavily from RoboCop and AI Artificial Intelligence but lacks that touch which made these films human and real. In one word, what the film lacks is heart.