Monday, March 9, 2015


Short version: I'm conflicted. I walked out of the movie really pumped up and loving it. But the more it unspools in my head, the more issues I have with it. I think I have to say that Blomkamp managed to make a truly great story out of a pretty mediocre script. So if you can let yourself just enjoy the story and not worry about little things like realism and consistency, I think you'll love it.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I nailed the Hollwood pitch: Short Circuit crossed with Robocop, set in District 9. After seeing the movie, that's still a pretty good summary of the plot. Dev Patel takes on Steve Gutenberg's role of brilliant AI/robotics guru. Rather than a random lightning bolt, though, this AI is deliberately made conscious. But things go awry, and the robot ends up with a trio of "gangstas" as parental figures instead of either the scientist or Ally Sheedy. The Robocop angle comes in because the previous generation of robots are all cops. Oh, and Hugh Jackman is in love with his ED-209. Sigourney Weaver is wasted as the CEO, because she doesn't once yell "Behave yourselves!".

Chappie himself is, of course, the focus of the story. In the space of about a week, he develops from near-feral babe (his first motions are surprisingly animal-like) to remarkably intelligent and wise adult. Of course, it's a traumatic week that involves being abandoned, tortured, rescued, corrupted, loved, inducted into the gangsta life, trained to commit crimes and violence, and deceived in numerous ways by numerous people. The fact that he ends up even remotely sane, let alone sanguine about humanity and his relationship with them, is one of the more improbable facets of the movie.

Improbable? That's a pretty decent segue into the tech. If you know how computers work, completely disengage that knowledge. The range of ridiculous errors, from doing several multi-terabyte compiles in a single night (benign technobabble) to Chappie being able to hook up to a neural interface simply by virtue of being conscious (what the what?), is pretty egregious. But, except for that last one, I just let it all go. It's a known fact that computers work differently in the land of cinema. The rest of movie held together pretty well.

It is very easy to ignore these problems, because Chappie himself is so endearing. The material doesn't stretch far outside the normal bits. "Why are you hurting me?" "Why are you lying to me?" "No, Chappie, we aren't stealing, those are bad men who stole from us, and we're just taking it back." But the very simple interactions are sold exceptionally well by Sharlto Copley (who voiced Chappie) and whoever the body model is. The emotional beats are nailed over and over. You love Chappie. You come to love the gangstas (well, maybe not hate them). You hate the bad guys. Everything that can be done to win over your emotions is done both exceptionally and subtly. I never felt manipulated into caring about the robot.

As a fair warning, this movie is both vulgar and violent. There is a LOT of language, and a lot of brutality. Though, admittedly, there is not as much gore as RoboCop. There's not much in the way of sex or nudity (the only bit I can think of is a brief shot of porn playing on a screen in the background). Decidedly NOT a movie for the kiddies, though teens will almost definitely eat it up.

Final recommendation: See it. It's worth seeing in the theater, if only to be part of the conversation. If you miss it in the theater, it is well worth picking up on the streaming service of your choice.

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