Directed By: Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Watkin Tudor Jones, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver, and Hugh Jackman

There's a fine line between a director utilizing recurring stylistic flourishes throughout his or her filmography and a director doing the same thing over and over again expecting the same success time and time again.  Neill Blomkamp is flirting with this line.  His first film District 9 focused on aliens living in the slums of a futuristic Johannesburg, South Africa.  His second feature Elysium tackled class warfare in yet another dystopian sci-flick.  Now, his third outing Chappie returns to the slums of Johannesburg to offer RoboCop 3.0 and an interesting take on artificial intelligence.  Blomkamp has interesting subjects, but it feels like he's once again delving into yet another bleak, futuristic world.  This repetition is undermining his creativity in the director's chair.  Despite being pretty enjoyable, Chappie is just another example of this.

Johannesburg is a much safer city thanks to software engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel).  Thanks to the police department's partnership with Tetravaal, the weapons manufacturer for which he works, Deon's robotic officers known as Scouts are patrolling the streets of the city day and night.  While Tetravaal's CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) is satisfied with the Scouts, Deon himself is not.  He's working to create conscious, self-aware robots who can grow, learn, and adapt like humans.  Opportunity knocks with the arrival of the decimated Scout 22 in the not too distant future.  Meanwhile, ex-soldier and Tetravaal employee Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) will stop at nothing to get Deon's Scouts off the streets and his monstrous robot known as Moose on them.

Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones), Yolandi (Yolandi Visser), and Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo) have seen better days.  They're $20 million in the hole and have seven days to pay Hippo (Brandon Auret).  If they can't make the payment, they'll be six feet under very, very soon.  While at a meeting with Hippo, the Scouts arrive, and a bullet-laced showdown ensues.  During the battle, Hippo manages to get his hands on a rocket launcher and opens fire on Scout 22.  The Scout is taken out, and everyone escapes.  With their debt unchanged, the trio needs money fast, and they need the remote to deactivate the Scouts in order to pull off a heist large enough to bankroll their debts.  To do so, they intend to capture Deon, who just happens to be breaking the law as well.  He's taken the scraps of Scout 22 and begun to create a sentient robot known as Chappie (Sharlto Copley).

If someone were to tell me that Peter Weller had secretly done the motion capture work for Blomkamp's latest feature film, I would believe it in a heartbeat.  While Chappie offers another bleak futuristic vision from Blomkamp, the most egregious shortcoming of the film might just be that it's nothing more than a 2015 update to RoboCop, a little more than a year after the 2014 remake.  After all, we have a machine killed in the line of duty that's given consciousness equivalent to that of any actual man.  He becomes both machine and person.  That being said, Johannesburg might as well be Old Detroit.  Tetravaal is in fact OCP rebranded.  There's no doubt in my mind that Moose is the ED-209 enforcement droid from back in the day.  While it's hard to deny that Chappie is one entertaining sci-fi thriller, it's even harder to deny that it's a wholly unoriginal film that copies from past sci-fi greats.

All of Blomkamp's typical stylistic flourishes are present in this gritty robot action flick.  What elevates Blomkamp's duplicative work is the cast.  First and foremost, we have Sharlto Copley giving a rather heartfelt performance as Chappie.  It's utterly fascinating to watch Copley take this robot through an abbreviated childhood as he gets exposed to the harsh nature of the world.  For his part as Deon Wilson, Dev Patel is arguably the moral compass of the movie.  As Chappie's Maker, he brings a compassion and warmth to the movie that's undeniable.  Finally, Iā€™d be remiss if I neglected to mention that we have Hugh Jackman as someone other than Wolverine in an action movie.  It's a real pleasure to see him as this ruthless, bloodthirsty ex-soldier.  For once, he gives us one slippery character.

The mark of a great science fiction film is that it takes us to somewhere in our own collective imagination we've never been before.  Neill Blomkamp's Chappie fails to do this in two ways primarily.  It immerses us in the same world Blomkamp has created time and time again in his previous works.  It then fills this world with copies of RoboCop characters from decades long ago.  There's no doubt in my mind that greatness eludes Blomkamp's latest cinematic endeavor.  Still, the film is pretty entertaining.  By the skin of its teeth, Chappie gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.