CINEMA REVIEW: Chappie (15) by Gavin Miller

Chappie (Sharlto Copley) from Columbia Pictures' action-adventure CHAPPIE.
Chappie (Sharlto Copley) from Columbia Pictures' action-adventure CHAPPIE.

Oh, things change quickly in the world of film.

One minute you’re the ‘Golden Boy’ with a highly-acclaimed breakthrough release like District 9, which gives you enough grace with producers after your next film (Elysium) underwhelms – but what if your third film bombs?

That’s exactly what happened with Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie – a week after he was given the Alien 5 gig.

Blomkamp undoubtedly has a keen eye for sci-fi with an engaging visual style and some intriguing ideas, but just like Elysium, this isn’t a patch on District 9, and shows that narratively the South African director has some noticeable shortcomings – highlighted by the talents of Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel being sorely underutilised.

The film is all over the place and ends up being a cross between Robocop and Short Circuit – without being as good as either of them.

Fortunately District 9’s lead Sharlto Copley is the best thing about it as the title character, using his voice talent and superb motion-capture animatronics. It’s this character you’ll root for the most.

With crime patrolled by a robotic police force on the streets of South African city Johannesburg – supplied by arms company CEO Michelle Bradley (Weaver) – inventor Deon Wilson (Patel) is looking to go beyond this and produce the first robot with an artificial intelligence, and steals a battered android.

But he gets kidnapped by a group of drug pushers – which includes the passable South African rap-rave duo of Ninja and Yolandi Visser – who have a large debt to pay, and order Wilson to program this robot for their own criminal means.

In the meantime, disgruntled ex-soldier and military employee Vincent Moore (Jackman) has found his own ED-209-alike robotic menace called the ‘Moose’ sidelined – and connivingly uses Wilson’s new creation as a way to bring his own invention to the fore.

But despite some interesting ideas, Chappie doesn’t really mesh together to form a coherent film, and ends up as a major disappointment, even though the ending just about provides a passable pay-off.

Fortunately Blomkamp has shown enough promise to potentially make something special with the Alien franchise – but he shouldn’t be a happy Chappie with this underachievement.