Since his debut, District 9, Neill Blomkamp has shown he knows where he stands in the division between man and machine: He's sided against Homo sapiens for being judgmental and cruel. His sci-fi flicks are thick with emotion, as though Rutger Hauer's dying replicant put down the white dove and picked up a camera.
In Chappie he creates a robot martyr. Shot in the heart -- er, battery -- in the line of duty, Chappie's innards have fused, leaving him only enough charge for five days of use. His corporate maker Deon (Dev Patel) rescues him from the scrap heap and implants an experimental conscience chip, turning the bot into a newborn who has to relearn everything. Deon must fight for custody against a trio of thugs who want to use Chappie's brawn to pull off a multimillion-dollar heist. And worse, Chappie's decided two of them (Die Antwoord's Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja, acting under those names) are his mommy and daddy.
Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell's script solders RoboCop onto Three Men and a Baby and sets the proceedings in a demented abandoned-building nursery/bootcamp where the guns, bricks, and punching bags are all innocent pastels. After a cloying early stretch, Ninja toughens up his robot by exposing him to the worst of humanity.
The plot is silly, the gears are loud, and good actors like Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver are simply set loose to chew the scenery. But the sci-fi purists who will roll their eyes at it and go home and rewind their Verhoeven would have ranked Chappie as a classic if they'd seen it at the right emotionally scarring young age.