‘Chappie’ Review: Feelings? There’s a Program for That

March 5, 2015 8:12 PM

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‘Chappie’ Review: Feelings? There’s a Program for That

Neill Blomkamp made a phenomenal feature debut five years ago with “District 9,” a hyperkinetic sci-fi fantasy, set in Johannesburg, that portrayed an impoverished race of extraterrestrials as victims of apartheid. In his sci-fi action thriller “Chappie,” the setting is once again Johannesburg, where the world’s first all-robot police force patrols the city streets with pitiless efficiency. Dev Patel—yes, he’s starring in two movies this week—plays Deon Wilson, a visionary young inventor who upgrades one of the droids with an artificial-intelligence program that gives the machine the functional and emotional capacities of a human being. Mr. Blomkamp’s new film, with its echoes of “RoboCop,” “Short Circuit” and the robotics of “District 9,” sustains a lively tension between A.I.-smart and comic-book-outlandish until the outlandishness turns to frenzy, the action grows familiar and you yearn for a robot break.

“Chappie” has plenty of ideas, or at least a profusion of echoes, which include fear and loathing of artificial intelligence (Hugh Jackman, in a mullet, is a rival inventor dedicated to Chappie’s destruction), and a reworking of the Frankenstein myth (goodness beset by ignorance). Oh, and a smidgen ...

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