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Chappie is another South African robot movie from Neil Blomkamp, the director who arrived on the scene in 2009 with the heart-pounding South African robot movie District 9. Chappie’s nowhere near as good as that film, nor for that matter as good as Blomkamp’s second, Elysium, from 2013, but it’s still an offbeat action flick with some memorable characters and a few unexpected twists. It opens Thursday at theaters area-wide.
In the near future, the police in Johannesburg, South Africa have been mechanized. Ruthless, efficient robot scouts patrol the streets and bust major crime rings on a pretty regular basis. These robots are built by a local weapons firm, and their popularity is on the rise.
But when a broken model is re-programmed by its designer Deon (played by Slumdog Millionaire’s earnest Dev Patel) it becomes the first robot with artificial intelligence. His name is Chappie and he soon has to fight for his survival even as he learns the language and gangster subculture of a wacky, often charming criminal trio, played by the real-live South African Rave Rap group Die Antwoord.
Chappie is voiced by the Neil Blompkamp regular Sharlto Copley — remember when his face got blown off in Elysium? — and watching him don bling and acquire South African slang is considerably funnier than watching him learn how to fight and shoot guns.
As Chappie gets roped into a heist, a disgruntled engineer (played by a mulleted Hugh Jackman) sabotages the robot police in an attempt to popularize his own design. Chaos ensues, and paves the way for a disquieting and extremely violent final act. Jackman is powerful as the militant Aussie ex-soldier. He makes the most of limited screen time without getting cartoonish.
Though it lacks District 9’s gripping premise, Chappie still allows Blomkamp to do what he does well — create original, visually striking characters within darkly realistic sci-fi premises and then choreograph fight sequences with lots of high-tech gadgetry in the mix.
Toss in some robot existentialism and South Afircan accents and you’ve got yourself a picture.