Chappie is good fun but Blomkamp never reaches the heights of District 9

MoviesBy Esther McCarthy
Gangster bot: Chappie has a lot going for it but it gets a little muddled along the way
Gangster bot: Chappie has a lot going for it but it gets a little muddled along the way

SOUTH AFRICAN director Neill Blomkamp brings his trademark visual flair and humour to his latest, a kind of B-Movie ET for grungy adults. It’s a shame that structurally the story’s a bit of a mess.

It’s fun, but it’s no District 9. 
The movie sees Blomkamp return to the urban South African settings of his first film. The blend of sci-fi and comedy introduces us to a world where an army of robot police, overseen by a company headed by CEO Michelle Bradley (Weaver), maintain order.
It’s an oppressive force but one that has effectively cleaned up the city – but some of its senior developers are not happy. Inventor and staffer Vincent Moore (a mullet-wearing Jackman) is furious that his even more regimented concept for the force has been cast aside for that of his younger rival, Deon Wilson (Patel). 
Wilson, too, wants to create an AI robot capable of thinking and feeling for himself – and it’s when he goes rogue and does just that, that Chappie is born. Unfortunately, the ’bot is stolen by a criminal gang who have their own menacing plans for him. 
Blomkamp has a lot of fun with the manifestation of Chappie and it’s here that the film works best. Chappie, you see, is a newborn robot, a childlike character who’s learning fast but hasn’t yet become accustomed to the cynical ways of the world around him. 
He’s an innocent who hates violence, much to the displeasure of the leader of the gang of crooks who have taken him under their control in a bid to do damage. Interest-ingly, he’s also open to the manipulations of the various characters who befriend him. 
Unfortunately, as a story, Chappie’s shortcomings really start to emerge in the second half of the film. There’s way too much clunky exposition and, tonally, the film’s all over the place – striving for emotion one minute and black comedy the next. 
Still, the film has much to paper over those cracks – the striking visuals, the nifty pace. Best of all is Chappie himself. Voiced by Blomkamp favourite Sharlto Copley, he’s an AI like we’ve never seen before, as human as they come. 
It’s an enjoyable oddity, but one that doesn’t deliver on this filmmaker’s initial promise. 
The Stars: Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel.
The Story: An ambitious young inventor creates an AI robot, placing him of the radar of both his rivals and a gang of crooks. 
Verdict: 3/5