Stephen Hawking, that genius de jour, has warned us that artificial intelligence in machines might be dangerous. What if they decide they want to be in charge?
But Hollywood doesn’t always see it that way. Remember the lovable humanized robot in “Short Circuit.” (Repeat after me: “Number 5 is alive!”). Or the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.” Or Pixar’s pixilated “WALL-E.”
Sometimes robots just want to have a heart. You know, be like you and me.
Well, that’s the premise of “Chappie.” Sorta.
This new robot action thriller is more of a cross between “Short Circuit” and “District 9.” It has a dark edge.
As a matter of fact, Neill Blomkamp, the South African who directed “District 9” on a shoestring budget, is the filmmaker behind this bigger budget production of “Chappie.”
Here, Blomkamp again turns to his old school chum Sharlto Copley, the unknown who starred in their breakthrough hit, “District 9.” While Copley has gone on to other sci-fi movie roles, like the villain in Matt Damon’s “Elysium,” he seems to remain Blomkamp’s good luck charm.
Indian actor Dav Patel, best known for “Slumdog Millionaire” and those “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies, lends a hand too.
Hugh Jackman, the Australian actor of “Wolverine” fame, takes on the role of the tinkerer who steals a police droid (that’s short for android) and gives it a new “brain.” Jackman is used to playing opposite mechanical co-stars, having headlined that rock-em-sock-em robot movie called “Reel Steel.”
With this injection of a new artificial intelligence, Chappie becomes a robot who, like Pinocchio, wants to be a real boy. However, as his inventor advises when the bad guys come after him, “If you want to live, you have to fight.”
A message for our troubled times.
We’re meant to be rooting for Chappie, for he’s just like you and me ... only different. Like a downtrodden race trying to assert its rights.
But civil disobedience is not the theme of this sci-fi thriller.
No, Chappie doesn’t dance down the yellow brick road in search of a heart like our old friend the Tin Man. Given today’s sensibilities, he fights for it with the ferocity of a riding lawnmower stuck on overdrive.
Come to think of it, maybe Chappie has a few circuit boards left over from Will Smith’s “I, Robot.”