‘Chappie:’ Two Movies in One—Not Necessarily a Good Thing

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Much was expected from “Chappie,” the latest from “District 9” director Neil Blomkamp. It was to introduce us to an artificially intelligent robot which would learn and adapt like a child. The film—he first film—does that with the occasional provocative or humorous exchange, but the second movie gets in the way, relegating the AI string to, at best, an interesting sidebar.

Like “District 9,” the setting is the roughest part of Johannesburg—or “Joburg”—where the Tetra Vaal company is fielding a force of robotic police officers called scouts. One of its engineers, Leon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, is experimenting with AI, against instructions from the company president, played by Sigourney Weaver for some reason. Another engineer, Vincent, played by Hugh Jackman using 10% of his skills, sabotages the scouts to promote the human controlled super-cop things he’s developing, which look like they walked in from the set of Robocop That opens the door for Leon to reboot a scout with his AI.

The second “Chappie” movie succeeds better than the first: It’s a gritty, but well-produced, gangster affair starring members of the South African electro-rock-rap act Die Antwoord, and making liberal use of their music. They competently play the gangsters who kidnap Leon and steal Chappie, and while living in an abandoned factory with amazingly high-speed internet, take on the robot’s training with the intent of having him join their gang. Yeah, you kinda have to be there….

If you’re looking for a sensitive treatment of AI –movie 1- stay home and watch Data on “Star Trek The Next Generation”. But for a rough and tumble shoot’em up -and lots of loud Die Antwoord- movie two will work OK with some popcorn at the Multiplex.