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Stars: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Brandon Auret, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman, Brando Auret, Johnny Selema

Director: Neill Blomkamp

With only two other feature films (District 9 and Elysium) behind him, writer director Neill Blomkamp has yet to be critically hailed as an auteur and therefore entitled to automatic critical reverence.

That said, he deserves considerable praise here for creating (the intriguing screenplay is co-written with his wife Terri Tatchell) a fascinating and hugely entertaining riff on, notably, Robocop and Frankenstein, and then driving the action-packed story at a furious pace that rarely lets up, delivering one of the most adrenaline-surging science-fiction action thrillers I’ve seen in a long while.

The setting is a dystopic, gangster-ridden Johannesburg in the near future where crime is controlled by an oppressive police force with the use of droid law enforcers that make ‘Robocop’ and his ilk resemble left-wing social workers by comparison.

The droids' creator, Dev Patel, is proud of his work but sets out to create a robot which isn’t a programmed killer but has the ability to think for itself and enjoy human emotions. And to do so, he goes up against his profit-driven employer (a, sadly, somewhat haggard-looking Sigourney Weaver) and matches wits with rival employee Hugh Jackman, to steal a wrecked robot due for demolition. Unfortunately, he is then kidnapped by a zany gang of tattooed Johannesburg gangsters (splendidly played by Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser). And by the time he creates sentient robot Chappie (“A computer system that might be smarter than a human”), the hoods have forced him to let them ‘raise’ Chappie as a gangster-cum-killer… Meanwhile the villainous Jackman is after Patel (briefly shown to posses a minor Achilles Heel when he says “All the information known by humans is on the Internet”) and his creation…

There are few dull patches.

Blomkamp keeps the story going (without, it has to be said, much consideration for Isaac Asimov’s benchmark Three Laws of Robotics). Nevertheless his storytelling never flags, the action scenes are really rousing and he makes excellent use of his sometimes grim and depressing Johannesburg locations which give the story an unfamiliar feel when compared with all those America-set robotic romps.

The blend of action, black comedy and superb, Oscar-worthy special effects (Chappie is a lot more convincing via animation and Sharlto Copley's animated transformation into the engagingly human robot hero (he also voices him perfectly), while strong supporting performances make this a movie to enjoy – and to think about later.

One minor moan: the climax features the giant lumbering robot controlled by Jackman’s evil thoughts which is sent destroy Chappie. Unfortunately, it rather resembled a robot refugee from Michael Bay’s eminently well deserved Razzie for Worst Director for the riotous rubbish that is Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Alan Frank

Mexico/USA 2015. UK Distributor: Sony (Columbia/MRC). Colour.
120 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 05 Mar 2015