6 hours ago
Friday, 13 March 2015
Set in and around Johannesburg (Director Neill Blomkamp's home city) Dev Patel is the young office nerd who succeeds in making one of a damaged army of shut-down police robots intelligence-independent and emotionally-sensitive, with abilities to mimic and repeat human actions as instructed. He and his pet robot are kidnapped by an anarchic and violent street gang who have to supply a rival group with an enormous monetary sum within a week. Patel is then forced to enlist his robot (the 'Chappie' of the title) into assisting with criminal heists in order to obtain the ransom. Jackman, working at the same organisation as Patel, has his own ideas on what to do with the decommissioned force of police robots, and is not best pleased when he susses out that Patel has achieved an advance in making this particular robot near-human - only to then discover that he has also been coerced into assisting with criminal activities.
Also in the cast, and playing her standard, cold, ruthless authority figure, is Sigourney Weaver, whose on-screen time must total no more than five minutes max.
Much of the action centres around Chappie's learning how 'he' should act by copying the mannerisms, talk and gun-toting activities of the gang whom he sees as his mentors, despite Patel's efforts in trying to protect him from their undesirable influence. Some of the audience found his antics while training amusing but it left me uncomfortable in the same way I'd feel seeing a dog being trained to perform illegal or morally unacceptable acts. And when Chappie, in order to be trained, is thrown in the deep-end by being left stranded with another gang who taunt, fling missiles at, and try to destroy it, I felt very uneasy. It had clear resonances with real life in seeing the robot as being the victim of a baying, hostile mob, intent on destroying simply for its being 'different'. Perhaps I'm carrying the analogy too far but I'm certain that the notion must have been in the director's (also the co-writer's) mind.
Acting throughout was reasonable enough. Special effects, through CGI of course, as flawless as one has come to expect. However, the 'signpost' music soundtrack was rather too invasive and insistent to the extent that it became a bit irritating.
Btw: I thought that Dev Patel (recently seen in 'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'), here in a 'straight' role, points up just how much his part in 'Hotel' was a caricature, and I now feel a bit guilty of a certain condescension as having seen much of his role in that film as arising from him as a person rather than being the quaint-Indian-type he was acting.
'Chappie' is not a great film, certainly nowhere near as good as the same director's first foray into robotics, 'District 9' of 2009, but it's okay enough. And if you, like me, are also a great fan of Mr Jackman (and I do appreciate that not everybody is), then his presence alone makes the whole thing more than worthwhile. If you're not a fan, however, you'd better deduct a point from my.............6.