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Chappie




Chappie (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

03/12/15
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



Chappie (R)

A robot is given consciousness and raised in a violent world in Chappie, an uneven but still riveting sci-fi movie from District 9’s Neill Blomkamp.
In the near future, the human police force in an increasing violent Johannesburg is unable to effectively fight crime and so it turns to robots. Moose, the large, Star-Wars-ian first attempt at a weaponized robot, created by former soldier Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), was deemed too militaristic for more strategic street fights. Even though these robots were controlled by a human brain, it’s the self-directed, more humanoid bots created by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) that are favored by the police force and soon they’re a ubiquitous part of the city’s policing strategy.
But Deon wants to create a truly conscious, sentient, moral robot to do the policing. When he comes home at night from his job at the robotics company that makes the police bots, he continues his own work on the consciousness question, trying to find the code that can give true thought to a robot. When he thinks he’s found it, he decides to try it out on a recently scrapped robot. But his boss, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), gives him a hard no — stick to the police bots, she says. 
Deon decides to give it a shot anyway, and packs up the discarded robot to take him home. Unfortunately, the day he decides to do this is also the day that a crew of minor-league criminals led by Ninja (Ninja, no, seriously, that’s the actor’s name) decides to kidnap Deon. Their plan is to get him to give them the “remote” that will turn off the robots and allow them to set up a heist of an armoured car. They need a lot of money fast to pay back an even bigger gangster with even more ridiculous hair. Deon tells them there is no such remote, but gets them to let him try out his program on the robot in his van with a vague promise that the robot can help them. The robot comes alive and is, at first, frightened and childlike. Deon tries to teach it as Ninja’s girlfriend Yolandi (Yo-Landi Visser) gently coaxes it out, calling it Chappie (Sharlto Copley). Though frightened of Ninja, Chappie takes to Yolandi, who starts calling herself “mommy.” While she nurtures Chappie, Ninja and third crew member Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo) try to teach him to be tough and gangster. But Deon, who comes back to check on Chappie despite Ninja’s threats, tries to give Chappie a moral core and makes him promise not to commit crimes or use guns. 
The more the sweet Chappie is coddled by Yolandi and Deon, the angrier Ninja gets. He has only a week to rob the bank car and get the money for the gangster. And Chappie has a short lifespan too — because of an injury before Deon gives him sentience, he only has about five days of battery life. Not willing to wait for Chappie to “grow up,” Deon tries to teach him about the horrors of the world by dumping him on the mean streets where he knows Chappie will likely be attacked. Little does Ninja know, an even more determined predator is after Chappie. Angry that Deon’s inventions have supplanted his and seeking the guard key that allowed Deon to change Chappie’s programming (he has his own nefarious programming he wants to install into the police robots), Vincent is hunting Chappie down. 
There are several scenes in Chappie that are, when you really think about them, horrifyingly violent. Replace the robot with the child that Chappie is on the inside and scenes of him being beaten by a group of street kids or mutilated by Vincent are deeply disturbing. Next to these scenes, scenes of Ninja (who is such a 1980s action movie villain that it’s almost hard to take him seriously) or an extra hammy Sigourney Weaver are so discordant as to leave you confused at what you’re watching. Or, at least, they do until you remember that Blomkamp did something similar in District 9, mixing absurdness with casual violence in such a way that it made the violence even more horrible. So even though Chappie occasionally reminded me of Short Circuit and had moments of cartoonishness, I also found it weirdly touching. The overlap in the gangster clown to serious social commentary Venn diagram is the scenes that feature Yolandi, with her Beyond Thunderdome hair and pastel punk get-ups sitting in a room that looks like a nursery as set up by an angry Tim Burton, reading to Chappie and explaining how she, his mommy, loves his soul. It’s weird and affecting and kinda great and it gives this movie the heart that I remember from District 9 but that felt cleaned out of Elysium
There’s a lot in Chappie that reminds me of District 9, from the settings in the Johannesburg ghettos to the less polished aspects of the storytelling (i.e. one-dimensional villains). But Chappie also has the same freshness as District 9, the same sense that you’re watching something that has thought and emotion behind its blast-’em-up scenes of gunplay. B
Rated R for violence, language and brief nudity. Directed by Neill Blomkamp and written by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell, Chappie is two hours long and distributed by Columbia Pictures.
 
As seen in the March 12, 2015 issue of the Hippo.
 





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