Cast: Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sharlto Copley, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver
Director: Neill Blomkamp
THE most surprising part of Chappie, by Academy Award-nominee Blomkamp, is that Hugh Jackman plays second fiddle to Dev Patel. The second surprising part is that Patel holds his own.
As Deon Wilson — no, no Indian-lineage hints — Patel is the lead programmer of the Scouts programme, which has provided Johannesburg with an all-robotic police force and brought order to the lawless town. Patel is working on making his machines better through giving them artificial intelligence.
Jackman is a war veteran, Vincent Moore, who doesn’t care for nerds such as colleague Wilson, wears shorts to office unlike Wilson’s tie and shirt, and who is pushing for his own Moore programme in which humans will control a crime-busting robot via a neuro-transmitter helmet.
Things take a turn when Wilson is denied permission to try his breakthrough A.I. technology on his Scouts. He secretes a dismantled robot away, is kidnapped on way home and, threatened by his abductors, loads this robot with the new technology. The result is ‘Chappie’, a robot that is like a child when rebooted, but who learns things much, much faster, is curious, inquisitive, has feelings, and a consciousness.
Voiced by a Blomkamp favourite, Sharlto Copley, Chappie is absolutely charming and absolutely tragic. South African musicians Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser, along with Cantillo, play the gangsters who kidnapped Wilson. As Yo-Landi takes on the role of Chappie’s ‘mother’, she is believable despite the candy-colour ammunition and explosives the gang surrounds itself with. She reads him bedtime stories, delights in his paintings and the speed at which he picks up new words, and tells him all about soul. ‘Father’ Ninja too begins to like him, though his primary motive remains using Chappie to pull off a heist, and ward off fellow robotic police officers.
Chappie is attacked, has his arm cut off, and stumbles through his first few hours bewildered at how things are turning out. Particularly as “maker” Wilson has instructed him “never, ever” to do anything criminal.
However, Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium), who co-wrote the film with wife Terri Tatchell, isn’t interested in exploring A.I. to any great depth except using it as a plot tool. So a lot else happens in Chappie that has little to do with Chappie, and involves gangsters in different states of undress and tattoo carvings.
Given that everyone seems to have a largely free run of a large weapons manufacturing company’s R&D unit, there is at least one scientific revelation from all the comings and goings: sometime in the future, one could download one’s consciousness onto a pen drive for eternity.