March 6, 2015
In Johannesburg in a future time, robots called Scouts have replaced the human police force. These efficient Scouts were developed by the young genius Deon Wilson. His rival in the company is war-freak ex-soldier Vincent Moore who is trying to push his own creation, the big, mean fighting machine he calls Moose. Moore wanted nothing more than to discredit Wilson by fair means or by foul.
One day, Wilson and a damaged Scout #22 (which Deon had enhanced with his experimental human-like artificial intelligence) were abducted by drug-dealers who desperately needed to pay off a $20M debt. Much to Wilson's annoyance, the low-lifes call #22 the undistinguished name Chappie. Worse, they train him in the violent ways of the 'hood in order to help them pull off a major heist.
Like director Neill Blomkamp's previous film "District 9", his latest film once again highlights his home country of South Africa. Aside from the Johannesburg setting, his favorite actor Sharlto Copley is again in the cast. This time Copley is playing the titular Scout Chappie via motion capture. Copley tended to exaggerate the child-like demeanor and the innocent voice by which he communicates his thoughts. Some of his scenes were cringe-worthy in their over-sentimentality, too cutesy for comfort. That scene where Chappie was left to fend for himself in the "real world" for the first time was disturbing yet heart-rending.
Moreover, for the key roles of the husband-and-wife gangsters whom Chappie learned to call his Daddy and Mommy, Blomkamp casts members of the local hip hop group Die Antwoord, even using their real names Ninja and Yolandi. I felt this was a major misstep as these two neophyte actors obviously were not up to the challenge their roles demanded. The way these two were delivering their dialogues were clearly and distractingly amateurish.
Hollywood actors Dev Patel (as Wilson) and Hugh Jackman (as Moore) were given pretty one-dimensional characters. Patel was at home playing a character we have seen him play before, an idealistic good guy. The way Wilson was written can be nonsensical for many of his decisions and actions. Jackman on the other hand, was clearly enjoying his rare chance to play bad guy, and was overacting to the hilt with evil relish. Sigourney Weaver was hardly even seen as Michelle Bradley, the CEO of the weapons company these two guys worked for, so casting her was inconsequential.
The story draws from several other Artificial Intelligence films we have seen before, especially those where the robot actually becomes human-like. The storytelling here was rather messy, riddled with improbable coincidences, and weighed down by its tendency for melodrama, which became mawkish many times. The Scouts, including Chappie, looked rather undistinguished, only marked by red "ear"-like flaps (of uncertain purpose) on both sides of the head. The Moose felt like a cross of the "Real Steel" and "Pacific Rim" robots, derivative design and concept.
Though the science was not convincing and it seemed impossible for them to get away with what they had done, the ending was OK with me. The importance of adult influence and proper education in the development of children's behavior are also underlying lessons, and I liked that as well. 6/10.