'Chappie' a nice rebound by director Neill Blomkamp 

click to enlarge “Chappie” is a touching tale of a robot that adopts human-like emotions. - COURTESY COLUMBIA PICTURES
  • “Chappie” is a touching tale of a robot that adopts human-like emotions.
“Chappie” is the third sci-fi movie from South African director Neill Blomkamp, and it's a welcome departure.

Blomkamp broke through with "District 9," a wildly successful, Oscar-nominated movie about an alien invasion that was ripe with political parables. His clunky follow-up, "Elysium," was even more heavily laden with well-meaning messages for the human race.

Remarkably, "Chappie" takes a step back, and rather than pointing an angry finger at human greed, brutality and cowardice, it turns around and suggests that compassion is far more powerful.

"Chappie" benefits from a much lighter tone, and a smoother filming style; it's a more colorful film, with a more intuitive use of space; much of it takes place in a bombed-out concrete building.

It also gets major points with the casting of the South African hip-hop artists Ninja and Yolandi Visser of the group Die Antwoord. Ninja is a lanky, tattooed hair-trigger, while Yolandi is like a pixie from outer space, and they're perfect co-stars for a robot and a nerdy scientist.

In the future, in Johannesburg, a robot police force has been implemented (just like in "Robocop"). The creator of the police robots, Deon (Dev Patel), has also been working on artificial intelligence in his spare time, hoping to create something that can think and feel, and even create.

Unable to get the approval of the company's CEO (Sigourney Weaver), he steals a broken robot to test his creation. Just then, Ninja and Yolandi kidnap him, hoping to find a way to shut off the police robots.

Instead they get Chappie (Sharlto Copley). The robot's childlike innocence quickly warms Yolandi's heart, and she calls herself his "mommy," while Deon remains his "creator."

With his new mixed-up "parents," Chappie learns a sweet, funny combination of gangster-type moves as well as compassion for others and a joy for life. His first "fist-bump" with another gang member (Jose Pablo Cantillo) makes a crunching knuckle sound, so he learns to do a softer one.

Hugh Jackman costars as the movie's almost unnecessary villain, the creator of a different, human-controlled robot.

But even with all this plot, Blomkamp still manages to move everything swiftly and with good cheer. Chappie becomes the movie's heartbeat, and its tuning fork; all the characters eventually follow his lead.

The movie ends up with an interesting twist on the idea of artificial intelligence, but it can hardly be called "commentary." It's more of a suggestion, and it comes with a twinkle in the eye.



Three stars

Starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja Visser, Yolandi Visser, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman

Written by Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Rated R

Running time 2 hours

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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