South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp played the robot card hard and brilliantly in his 2009 debut film, District 9. He did it to lesser effect in 2013’s Elysium. Now, in Chappie, Blomkamp — again drawing on the apartheid and xenophobia of his heritage — creates a futuristic world that goes haywire when man creates a robot in his image. Sadly, Blomkamp’s ideas feel depleted this time, dulled by repetition and other cinematic droids that stretch from HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey to Ultron in the upcoming sequel to The Avengers.
Chappie feels played out from the start when a scientist (Dev Patel) reboots a police droid so it can think and feel for itself. Kidnapped by thugs, the droid — renamed Chappie (Sharlto Copley does the excellent motion-capture) — is programmed to shoot, steal cars and talk street, muthafucka. Enemies of artificial intelligence, repped by a weapons designer (Hugh Jackman) and a profiteer (Sigourney Weaver), see potential for evil, and they want it destroyed. His creator sees only Chappie’s humanity. What do you think? Blomkamp and his wife and co-writer, Terri Tatchell, stack the deck. Instead of awe, we get E.T.-aww.