Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Brandon Auret
Written by: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 120
Date: 03/06/2015

Chappie (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bot in the Act

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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. 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 co-stars as the movie's almost unnecessary villain, the creator of a human-controlled robot; there were already quite a few villains here.

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 artificial intelligence, but it can hardly be called "commentary." It's more of a suggestion, and it comes with a twinkle in the eye.

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