If filmmaker Neill Blomkamp were a schoolboy, you would diagnose him with ADHD. But hold the medication. Chappie, his return to South African-set sci-fi six years after District 9, is so kinetic, so captivatingly crackerjack that attention deficit is no danger for the audience even if it is for the artist.
Spinning too many plot plates for ordinary mortals, Blomkamp and District 9 co-writer Terri Tatchell bestow rogue AI on a police droid — robocops being the rage in a futuristic Joburg in civil ferment — and christen him Chappie; then they pinball him between adopting “dads”. Nerdy inventor Dev Patel follows his sentient creation to the den of robot-kidnapping crims Ninja and Yolandi (played by same-name Afrikaner rap duo), hoping to lob last scraps of education. “Nurture your creativity!” is his parting cry. Meanwhile rival droid designer Hugh Jackman harries boss Sigourney Weaver to greenlight a metalled mega-hulk — think Star Wars gone DIY — which will take care of absolutely everything, Chappie included.
Voiced and motion-capture-mimed by Sharlto Copley, D9’s hero-psycho, Chappie is irresistible: whimsical, volatile, anxious to learn, eager to please, accident-prone. Sampling possible personae, he mimics every master from the nerd to the gun nuts. Late on, the movie explodes in a few too many digital-dazzle set-tos and Armageddon showdowns. Before that it’s an anarchic charmer: part punk ET, part Rave New World.