So District 9 filmmaker Neill Blomkamp may be a one-trick pony, a frightening proposition, considering Ridley Scott just handed him the reins to rewrite the Alien franchise. Chappie seems to take place in the same pseudo-future Johannesburg that was invaded by District 9’s aliens. Fortunately, Chappie takes after District 9 more than Blomkamp’s last film, the joyless Elysium. A silly joyfulness is something of which Chappie has loads. Think Robocop meets Short Circuit, a movie mashup that works more than it doesn’t; actually, this flick is a better Robocop remake than the official one. A crime-ridden Joburg is policed by mechanized peace officers. But the robots’ creator, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), has bigger plans; he longs to create a true artificial intelligence, a consciousness that can learn and grow.
After getting captured by some low level, Borderlands thugs (played by South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser), Deon’s special robot, Chappie (voiced by Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley), must decide for himself what he wants to be when he grows up.
Blomkamp has never been one to subtly inject his sense of morality into his films, and Chappie’s nature-nurture allegory is abusively brutal. Fortunately, the ever-entertaining Hugh Jackman shows up with a sweet mullet and a Metal Gear/ED-209 knockoff everyone keeps rejecting in favor of Deon’s Scout model droids. Chappie feels like a movie out of time; it would have felt more at home in the 1990s with a role for Christopher Lambert. No matter the decade, R-rated, sci-fi action with a high entertainment quotient is always welcome.
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