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Johannesburg is now a criminal war zone patrolled by mechanised Scouts, the world’s first robotic police force. When bone-headed Jo’burg lowlifes Ninja and Yo-Landi kidnap Scout designer Dev Patel, they didn’t realise he’d have a damaged droid in the back of his van.

Having finally cracked the code, Patel had planned – against corporation policy – to make the discarded Scout 22 his AI prototype. Yo-Landi squeals that it looks like ‘a happy chappie’. Despite a few scenes of violent mayhem, this disappointing action flick from District 9’s Neill Blomkamp is closer in tone sadly to ‘cute’ 80s robot pic Short Circuit than to its obvious inspiration, Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop.

The Scouts issuing commands in a droning montone sound suspiciously like Peter Weller. And there’s even an ED-209 subplot involving Hugh Jackman’s brainchild, the Moose, a gigantic machine deemed unsuitable for urban crime: “Things are going to have to get a helluva lot worse for us to consider this,” says the police chief.

Things indeed deteriorate, just not in the way we might have hoped for in a punchy futuristic pic from Blomkamp that’s at best frustratingly uneven. Besides the script’s head-slapping credibility issues throughout, there’s an awful sentimentality in the scenes involving Patel and Ninja’s supposedly dangerous criminal gang. Voiced by Sharlto Copley as a petulant child, Chappie’s fine, a curious embodiment of nature-vs-nurture. It’s the interactions of all the humans that’s so artificial.

Certificate: 15

Duration: 120m

Monty’s Rating: 2/5