A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chappie is from South African director/sci-fi specialist Neill Blomkamp, who also made District 9. Despite the movie's Short Circuit-meets-A.I. overtones, Chappie is far too violent to be appropriate for tweens or even young teens. In fact, there's so much violence (there are lots and lots of guns, and people are shot at, crushed, punched, stabbed, and even sliced in half) and strong language ("motherf---er" is thrown around casually, even by the robot) that even some adult audiences might find it off-putting. There's also a quick glimpse of a naked woman seen on television in the background of one scene and lots of drug-related content (the criminals are dealers). On the plus side, the movie could prompt interesting discussions about what makes someone "human" and whether artificial intelligence is any more or less moral/ethical than human actions.
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What's the story?
CHAPPIE is set in the near future, when Johannesburg, South Africa, is overrun with criminals -- until the police force starts using law-enforcement robots to help restore order. The practically indestructible titanium robots are the brainchild of tech firm Tetra Vaal's young engineer Deon (Dev Patel), who wants the next step to be a fully sentient robot. Meanwhile, Deon's work rival (Hugh Jackman) is working on the "Moose," a huge, tank-like robot that's remote controlled by a human wearing a special helmet. When Deon claims to have successfully isolated a consciousness program, his boss, Michelle (Sigourney Weaver), refuses to let him try it out and tells him to focus on perfecting the machines he's already designed. Unwilling to let the sentient robot idea go, Deon steals a robot scheduled for demolition, only to end up carjacked by a trio of serious criminals (played by Afrikaner rap duo Ninja and Yolandi Visser and American actor Jose Pablo Cantillo). The criminals demand that Deon use his program to create a robot who will work for them instead of the cops, and thus Chappie (voiced by Sharlto Copley) -- the first conscious robot -- is born to hardcore South African criminals.
Is it any good?
Director Neill Blomkamp stunned audiences with his Academy Award-nominated debut District 9; his follow-up, Elysium, was a high-concept disappointment, and Chappie is even more confounding. It wastes the talent of the top-billed cast to instead focus on the visually striking but downright distracting Yolandi and Ninja. From the trailers and marketing materials, it might seem that Patel, Jackman, and Weaver are the main characters, but the leads are really Yolandi -- who sports tiny bangs and a platinum blond mullet -- and the foulmouthed Ninja, whose many tattoos include the titles of his band's various songs and albums. If Blomkamp, a professed Die Antwoord fan, wanted to do some stunt casting, he should have given the duo smaller roles, because neither of them can act. They spend the entire film giving stilted readings and either over or underdelivering lines. Even more bizarre is the fact that they (and the graffiti in their abandoned warehouse lair) routinely reference Die Antwoord.
Even worse than Ninja's and Visser's performances is the fact that no one elicits any sympathy. Unlike Copley's character in D9 or Matt Damon's in Elysium, no one in this movie will touch the audience with their troubles. Perhaps the robot Chappie could have won viewers over, but thanks to his criminal upbringing, he's basically a child-like thug who smashes and steals cars at gunpoint on his daddy's orders. It's not that the idea of criminals raising their own robot isn't compelling, but these are the wrong criminals, and Chappie is a confusing mix of super robot genius and tween thug. With more capable actors playing Chappie's criminal parents, perhaps the story would have been less off-putting. But as it is, Chappie seems more like a Die Antwoord video than a Blomkamp film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Chappie's use of violence. How is violence a theme of the movie? What do you think the filmmaker is trying to say about law enforcement versus criminal use of violence?
Chappie stars two South African musicians, Ninja and Yolandi Visser, who use their real names and sport their real tattoos/style in the film. Did you know anything about their rave-rap group Die Antwoord? Why do you think the director gave them such big roles and didn't have them change their personas/names/clothes for the movie? Are you interested in their music because of the movie?
Neill Blomkamp's other movies have messages about apartheid, class, and health care. What do you think the messages are in this movie? Is it as clear?
- In theaters: March 6, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: June 16, 2015
- Cast: Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley
- Director: Neill Blomkamp
- Studios: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Robots
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, language and brief nudity
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