Neil Blomkamp loves robots and aliens more than human beings and maybe that's why all his stories so far have had something to do with the man versus machine concept.
After making his smashing debut in 2009 blockbuster "District 9", Neil became a much sought after filmmaker. But the overnight success didn't last long as his big budget sci-fi drama "Elysium", his second film turned out to be a disaster. And his latest outing "Chappie" feels like it's been made from nuts and bolts of his earlier films and the pieces don't fit the way they should.
In "Chappie", he envisions a world where robots aid police force in bringing down the crime rate. They don't just aid, but even risk their lives to save their human counterparts. In one such operation, a droid gets severely broken beyond repair.
Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is the chief designer of the robots that have been successfully assisting the Johannesburg police department in fighting crime and his organization is proud of his work. But Deon has been secretly working on a programme that will allow robots to have a mind of their own, behave and feel like humans with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). When he pitches the idea, his boss doesn't approve, forcing him to illegally test it on the broken droid.
Deon's ambitious plan goes for a toss when he is kidnapped by a group of gangsters, who plan to use him to programme a robot to help them pull off a big heist. Deon reprogrammes the broken droid with AI, and Chappie is born.
"Chappie" has very little story and whatever it has doesn't quite engage us. But what's charming about the film is Neil's idea to treat humans and robots equally. When a robot can behave like us and has feelings of its own, thanks to AI, why should it still do whatever it's instructed to do. With a mind of its own, a robot can differentiate between right and wrong but it needs to be shown how and that's where human intervention is needed.
When Chappie is first brought back to life, it reacts to its surroundings with fear. Deon calls it a child and says it needs to be oriented. When you forget Chappie is a robot and treat it like a child, you'll appreciate what Blomkamp tries to address here.
While the gangsters want Chappie to help them pull off a heist, Deon wants it to learn a la humans. In a touching scene, Deon encourages Chappie to paint and read a book about a black sheep. Typically, a black sheep is a disreputable member of a family or group, but here it stands for someone unique and different. Chappie is the black sheep, and its uniqueness is symbolically highlighted by the orange coloured ear, which is quite evident even in the film's posters.
But these wonderful moments don't make up for the lack of story. And there's plenty of awe-inspiring action in this insipid tale which like Neil's earlier films is set in his birthplace Johannesburg in South Africa. For reasons nobody would understand, the director had cast two members of the rave-rap group Die Antwoord in the lead roles, while Dev Patel tries his best to do justice as a nerd. Jackman was merely cast for the purpose to fill in the shoes of a bad man in such stories.
"Chappie" has lots of issues but it definitely isn't a bad film. Agreed the concept is archaic, but there's something oddly charming about it.