Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman
2 (out of 5) Globes
Yasujiro Ozu spent most of the back part of his career cranking out films so similar — with titles like “Late Spring,” “Early Summer,” “Late Autumn,” etc. — that you could be forgiven for getting some of them mixed up. He approached movies the way a chef does a signature dish. So technically it shouldn’t be a problem that, with “Chappie,” director Neill Blomkamp ("District 9") has now made three clangy, high-concept, hyperviolent sci-fi actioners that feature robots or man-’bot hybrids plus edgy but shallow social commentary in a row. Sure, Blomkamp isn’t exactly making sushi here. Like his usual cohort Sharlto Copley, director Neill Blomkamp is not gentle. He’s ecstatically sloppy — a sugar-high kid with too many toys, running around a playroom knocking things over.
This lack of care can be thrilling, as in the relentless, squirty climax of “District 9.” And it can be troubling, as in the way, in the same film, some of the baddies are poor, interned black South Africans. “Chappie” has a different problem: It doesn’t seem particularly engaged with the world it itself has dreamt up. It sets itself up with a promising premise — a robot cop (or, if you will, a “RoboCop”) who gains sentience, not unlike Johnny-5 in “Short Circuit” — but can barely be bothered to explore it, even for its own pulpy kicks.
Willed into being by a perpetually wide-eyed Dev Patel, the one dubbed Chappie (voice and mo-cap by a typically excitable Copley) winds up adopted by a gang of punk thieves right out of a “Mad Max” film. (They’re led by a guy named Ninja played by a guy credited as “Ninja,” but whose real name is Watkin Tudor Jones.) They raise Chappie as their own, tagging him with graffiti and bling and teaching him to speak in a borderline offensive “street” patois. They also — in the film’s one decent joke — cleverly circumvent his refusal to kill by telling him stabbing people just makes them sleep better.