Monday, 30 November -0001


This sci-fi romp with robots, robocops and robbers is good, but doesn’t quite compute

Written by Matt Warren
Matt-Warren-portrait-BW-176Can a machine ever truly think? It was a question pondered by Alan Turing – himself the subject of the recent Oscar-nominated film, The Imitation Game – in 1950, when he came up with a simple method for finding out. The Turing Test requires a human interrogator to ask questions of two unseen subjects – one human, one artificial – and to establish which is which. If the judge cannot tell them apart, one can surmise that the artificial subject is ‘thinking’, or at least doing a pretty good job of imitating thought.

It’s safe to say that your home computer would fail abysmally. As would your smartphone. CHAPPiE (don’t ask me why his name is written this way) would not. This is a film about a fully sentient robot; a machine that learns, loves, frets about death, even paints, and how it – sorry, he – comes to terms with ‘life’ in a very mucky world.

The setting, as in director Neill Blomkamp’s brilliant debut District 9, is a near-future Johannesburg. Crime is rife, so the authorities have rolled out an army of robocops, manufactured by Tetravaal, a murky weapons company run by Sigourney Weaver, aka Michelle Bradley. These ‘Scouts’ are doing a pretty good job of keeping the streets safe, but they cannot think for themselves. They’re bulletproof but disposable: blunt instruments.

Their designer, Deon (a hammy Dev Patel), however, has bigger ambitions. He’s uptown Jo’burg’s Dr Frankenstein and has written a program for a truly conscious artificial intelligence, one he claims can fully empathise, write poetry and chat intelligently about art. Unsurprisingly, his boss, Michelle, isn’t terribly excited – she’s an arms dealer, remember – so forbids him from uploading it into one of the robots.

Hmm, what to do?

Well, after a series of rather convenient contrivances, Deon’s program ends up in the mind of a defunct Scout, renamed CHAPPiE, which, in turn, ends up beholden to gangsters Ninja and Yolandi, who want it to provide the muscle for a heist.

And things soon get worse. Ninja and Yolandi are being pursued by a brutal criminal kingpin, while Deon and CHAPPiE are in the sights of Deon’s disgruntled co-worker Vincent (Hugh Jackman sporting a quite spectacular mullet). Deon’s Scout department has been filching funds from Vincent’s own project, a military-grade monster codenamed The Moose, and Vincent has anger issues. Oh, and CHAPPiE’s battery is going flat.

Needless to say, plentiful bloody and explosive action sequences ensue. But this is also a quirky, imaginative picture about a new life’s rite of passage, the nature of parenthood and the ethics of creating artificial consciousness. CHAPPiE (played by Sharlto Copley, using motion capture) also has the wiring of a truly iconic character.

Apply The Turing Test and you won’t be fooled into thinking CHAPPiE is a great film. It is, however, certainly a good one.

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