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Chappie (8/10)

by Tony Medley

runtime 112 minutes.

OK for children 12+.

I have to admit that this film surprised the heck out of me. I thought it was going to be one of those Terminator type of action films about robots who could do just about anything and are horrible.

This ainít that. Oh, there are lots of robots who do amazing things. And the robots look astoundingly real. And there is a lot of mayhem.

But this is about a South African police force that has robotized its force. The bad guys donít like this. Deon (Dev Patel, the same guy who puts together the Exotic Marigold Hotel in India) is an artificial intelligence scientist who is trying to get the robots to be less, well, robotic and more human with the ability to reason and feel. In short, he wants to give the robots a human sensitivity. So he creates Chappie from an old beaten up robot. And the sensitive, confused Chappie is definitely the star of the movie.

To tell anything about the story other than that would be to diminish its pleasure in seeing it without knowing whatís going to happen, so thatís all Iím going to say about the story, except that there are some very bad guys, especially Vincent (Hugh Jackman), who is a fellow employee of Deonís but is trying to worm his way into the confidence of boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) so he can use his super-robot.

Also appearing as bad guys who interrelate with Chappie are South African rappers Ninja and Yo-Landl Visser who appear as characters using their real names.

Whatís really movie magic is the way Chappie was created by the filmmakers. The role was played by Sharito Copley (and I think he deserves an Oscarģ nomination even though we never see him). He acted the role in all the scenes filmed with the other actors. But he wore a special lycra outfit that allowed technicians in post-production to use performance capture techniques to paint him out and the robot in mimicking Copleyís actual movements. The result is so realistic it's magical.

This is a unique take on the action/robot genre by director Neill Blomkamp, who is no stranger to this type of film (District 9). Heís going down a different path here and it looks like a good one. Whether or not he intended it, the film seemed to have serious sub-themes about sensitivity to personal identity and the ability to take control of one's own existence.

Regardless, this is a movie that has a lot of action but is still appealing and humorous at the same time, especially if you don't take it too seriously.