Frequently mayhem-ridden and only sporadically moving, the sci-fi drama “Chappie” (Columbia) offers a meager return on the considerable investment of persevering through its pyrotechnics.
Mature viewers robust enough to make this questionable bargain will find themselves toting up a muddled premise, unlikely patterns of behavior and a passing treatment of Christianity that’s just plain dumb.
That last entry in the debit column is at least a bit surprising, given that this is supposed to be a story about intelligence, specifically of the artificial kind.
Hollywood, it seems, just can’t wait for the day when AI (artificial intelligence) makes its long-predicted leap into full-blown, human-style consciousness.
Perhaps industry leaders are yearning for the advent of a robot director — an unsalaried auteur whose output could be pre-programmed for surefire popularity. Here, though, we have to settle for an automaton that can paint.
This metallic would-be Monet, from whose name the film takes its title, is the latest creation of South African designer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel).
With a successful product line of police androids to his credit, Deon has been working on a computerized version of human awareness. But his boss, hard-bitten weapons manufacturing exec Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), is too profit-focused to see the point of punching out a bunch of sensitive, artsy-craftsy culture mavens. How Philistine.
Thus, when his long process of experimentation finally pays off, Deon has no better option than to upload his breakthrough firmware into the discarded and fatally damaged chassis of one of his peace officers. (The voice and actions of the resulting hybrid are provided by Sharlto Copley.)
Wouldn’t you know it, though, Deon has been under surveillance by a trio of gangsters made up of eponymous characters played by rappers Ninja and Yolandi Visser, along with an American import nicknamed Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo). They’re out to take control of Deon’s robocops. What they get instead, by carjacking Deon, is childlike Chappie, whom they proceed to exploit and nurture in equal measure.
Not surprisingly, Chappie is left thoroughly confused by the contradictory influences of his morally upright maker and his criminally minded new owners.
Though it can be read, at least in part, as a religious and moral allegory, director and co-writer (with Terri Tatchell) Neill Blomkamp’s thinking viewer’s action movie also heavy-handedly defames faith.
Thus Chappie wants to be good for Deon’s sake, yet he’s led astray by Ninja and Yolandi’s affectionate but malign tutelage. And, while Chappie’s desperation in the face of his own mortality generates genuine pathos, the fact that Deon’s villainous rival Vincent (Hugh Jackman) sports a spurious religiosity and blesses himself at the oddest times — as, too, does Ninja — will alienate not only the faithful, but the astute as well.
The film contains pervasive violence, much of it gory, an incidental but negative portrayal of Christianity, a nonmarital situation, several uses of profanity and relentless rough and crude language. (L, R)