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Being Unoriginal Is Not The Biggest Problem For 'Chappie'


The director of the acclaimed sci-fi hit "District 9" is now out with a sci-fi thriller called "Chappie." Here's film critic Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Chappie" is a movie about the evolution of artificial intelligence that's as dumb as a post. It's the mildly futuristic story of a police robot turned into the world's first thinking, feeling piece of hardware. It echoes everything from Dr. Frankenstein's creation to the Tin Man in "The Wizard Of Oz." But being unoriginal is far from its biggest problem. The time is the near future. The place - Johannesburg, South Africa. A crime wave of unprecedented ferocity is sweeping the city. And in desperation, the local cops go mechanical, turning to what's called the world's first robotic police force.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As police scout robot) Drop your weapons.

TURAN: These droids, known as scouts, were designed by brainy twerp Dion Wilson played by Dev Patel. Wilson has been secretly working for years on an unfulfilled dream - a robot that can think and feel. As part of a plot that's both convoluted and stupid, Wilson steals a rejected droid to further experiment on. Meanwhile - there's always a meanwhile in films like this - a group of moronic criminals find themselves desperate for more ways to steal money. They decide they need a robot of their own and end up kidnapping both Wilson and his prototype, voiced by Sharlto Copley - an attempt with mixed results to turn it to a life of crime.


SHARLTO COPLEY: (As Chappie) No, I can't shoot peoples.

WADDY JONES: (As Ninja) What?

COPLEY: (As Chappie) I can't shoot them. They didn't do anything to me.

JONES: (As Ninja) How you going to do the heist with us if you don't shoot people?

COPLEY: (As Chappie) I can't do a heist. Heist is a crimes. I promised.

TURAN: When Wilson's boss, played by Sigourney Weaver, finds out he's been tinkering with these robots, she goes ballistic.


SIGOURNEY WEAVER: (As Michelle Bradley) Do it. Destroy that robot.

HUGH JACKMAN: (As Vincent Moore) Thank you, ma'am.

WEAVER: (As Michelle Bradley) Burn it to ash.

TURAN: Factor in feeble acting by usually reliable people like Weaver and Patel - this plays out even worse than it sounds. Director Neill Blomkamp's style is so crude it's impossible to tell if it's the result of intention or ineptitude. But if "Chappie" accomplishes anything, it makes you wish that robots could make movies. It couldn't be any shoddier than this.

GREENE: Kenneth Turan, how do you really feel? He reviews movies for Morning Edition and for the Los Angeles Times. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Our theme music was written by BJ Leiderman and arranged by Jim Pugh. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.