After the less well received follow-up, Elysium (2013), from the much well-deserved and praised, District 9 (2009), Neill Blomkamp had a lot to prove (to me) with CHAPPiE. I’m not going to say that I loved this flick because I didn’t, but I did find it to be refreshingly honest and whimsical in its dark, gritty, South African way. Seeing the obvious inspirations of Robocop (1987), Short Circuit (1986) and I, Robot (2004), I also saw a really nice undercurrents of Transcendence (2014) and Electric Dreams (1984).
In the not-so-distant future, the crime rate in Johannesburg, South Africa has gotten so high that law enforcement has been augmented with an artificial police force or unmanned drones created by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). His leaner, sleeker and more independent drones are the bane of his main rival Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) existence; who’s bulkier, tank-like, manned-robots were passed over. Deon, in his zeal to create an even more human-like robot, finally breaks the code to true artificial intelligence. Needing to test his program, he implants the program into a drone that is affectionately named, CHAPPiE.
However, things for Deon get a bit more complicated as CHAPPiE is co-opted by band of hapless gangsters, led by Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones) and Yolandi (Yolandi Visser) of the notorious South African, rave-rap group, Die Antwoord. In an effort to get out of some trouble they’ve found themselves in, they figure CHAPPiE may be exactly what they need to come out on top. As CHAPPiE begins to learn about the world around him, and like a child, imprint on the only mother-figure he knows, Yolandi, we get to witness the birth of a new life and new existence.
With the dazzling effects, humor and character you’ve come to expect from one of Neill’s properties, I found that this movie had a lot of heart and a few very touching and profound moments. The one thing you realize in this movie is that it addresses some fundamental questions regarding the nature vs. nurture argument in respects to the character development of a person. What I also found interesting is that the nature question is also fundamentally played out in respect to the very fabric of what we call or create as a family. This movie wasn’t “deep”, but it provided some good discussions. This tale wasn’t epic, but it was poignant at times.
That isn’t to say that the speediness of the self-induced plot didn’t have a lot to be desired. For one, in order to implant the A.I. program into the drone, Deon had to procure the “guard key” input device that is the ONLY device that allows any changes to a drones programming. Now, this key is so critical, so important to the fundamental security of the drone’s software that they keep it locked up in a super-max, highly secured, mutli-layered, quadruple security, bio-passcoded vault. Oh wait. No they didn’t – it was in a small, fenced-in gate that Deon has complete access to where no security cameras monitor. (Spock eyebrow raise) There were other issues, but that was by far the most egregious plot-induced stupidity I’ve seen in a minute. However, this was a return to Neill’s strong directorial roots – a small-scale, simplistic tale about a slice of life moment.
All in all, this was an enjoyable little tale about the little robot that could…. Enjoy.