Lion

Director: Garth Davis (2017) BBFC cert: PG

This real life long distance drama covers a lot of hard miles on its struggle around the globe.

Searingly sincere and with few surprises, we follow the footsteps of Saroo, an illiterate Indian boy adopted by a wealthy white Australian couple.

Played by the endearing Sunny Pawar, the six year old inadvertently goes on an epic train journey before ending up in the claustrophobic chaos of Calcutta. There’s a touch of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp in the sad soulfulness of the streetwise urchin.

Saroo is eventually adopted along with another boy by Nicole Kidman in a bad haircut. Suddenly it’s twenty five years later and he’s a strapping surfer dude, played by the charming presence Dev Patel.

Suffering an identity crisis at university, Saroo begins the struggle to find his birth family. Rooney Mara plays the most generic of girlfriends, forced to parachute in and out to give Saroo someone to explain himself to.

It’s a seemingly impossible task given Saroo doesn’t know his surname, the name of his home town and he has search area with a radius over twelve hundred kilometres long.

Fortunately in the intervening years some clever bod has invented google maps, which helps his quest no end. I’ve had less effective sat navs when trying to find an open garage. Too little time is spent on the detective work and the solution feels woefully under-earned.

There’s a spiritual core to the film which helps us cope with the poverty porn, the frequent suggestions of abuse and extended bouts of moping. Identity, culture and language are all touched upon but sadly not explored.

And after a sure footed sprightly start,it becomes a long slog under the weight of some heavy emotional baggage. Plus the presence of Patel reminds us another, finer film. At times it feels like we’re watching Slumdog Millionaire 2: The Backpacker Years.

Ultimately, what the film says is just because you’ve gone to Oz, there’s still no place like home.

@ChrisHunneysett

Chappie

Director: Neill Blomkamp (2015)

This socially aware sci-fi flick about a rogue robot suffers clunky construction, short-circuiting serious ideas with silliness.

A muddled exploration of what it means to be human, it lacks soul. Chappie the robot is annoying while human characters are unlikeable and thinly written.

It’s also determinedly derivative, poorly plotted, unintentionally funny and ends unconvincingly.

However there’s some great design, good action and an entertaining bad guy.

The crisp light of South Africa allows for fresh cinematography by Trent Opaloch and it’s edited with haste to keep the pace upbeat.

In his previous films District 9 and Elysium, director Blomkamp tackled racism and inequality. Here it’s the criminalisation of children, with echoes of Pinocchio and Oliver Twist.

In the near future, crime in Johannesburg has fallen dramatically due to the successful deployment of Scouts; heavily armed android police officers.

They’re designed by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who works at the Tetravaal corporation.

Rival designer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) believes his beast of a machine – called the Moose – to be superior to the Scouts and is frustrated CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) won’t provide the development funds he needs.

The contrast between the two different designs is remarkably similar to the two robots in Paul Verhoeven’s far superior 1987 classic Robocop.

It’s great fun to have Jackman as a bullying bad guy and there’s a little hint of Blade Runner’s JF Sebastian in Patel’s lonely Deon who builds toy robots for company at home.

Weaver is powerless to deliver anything interesting. Her ability, charisma and sci-fi cultural capital from playing Ripley in the Alien franchise is squandered.

While on a drugs raid, robot officer 22 is damaged and ear-marked for scrap. His battery is irreparable and only has five days of power remaining.

Deon rescues the robot to test his unapproved artificial intelligence program.

Meanwhile tattooed criminals Ninja and Yolandi (real-life rap duo Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser) and their accomplice Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo) are in a tight spot.

They have to pay gangland boss Hippo (Brandon Auret) 20 million Rand within seven days or face his violent wrath.

The’re so edgy they live in an abandoned warehouse decorated in day-glo graffiti and drape themselves in the Stars and Stripes.

Their plan is to force Deon to switch off the city’s police robots to facilitate their robbing an armoured bank truck.

When they discover 22 in Deon’s van, it’s decided he would add muscle to their scheme.

22 is reactivated with his newly programmed artificial consciousness and renamed Chappie – but he is naive and emotionally under-developed.

Sharlto Copley provides his voice and mannerisms through a motion capture performance.

Deon and Ninja are equally unsuitable father figures fighting for influence over their ‘child’. One teaches art and literature, the other swear-words and violence.

We pity Chappie as he’s exploited and abused – but he quickly becomes a petulant teen with an irritating gangster persona and styling.

Playing the gangsta attitude for laughs undermines the script’s earnest warning of learnt criminality.

There are heroic security failures, eruptions of comic-book violence and a mysteriously disappearing riot. A plastic chicken features frequently.

A jerry-built not custom made script fails to offer memorable scenes or dialogue. Except for the South African setting it’s all extraordinarily familiar and disappointingly tame.

★☆☆☆

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Director: John Madden (2015)

In this sedate comedy drama sequel, the ex-pat British residents of the Indian hotel offer comfy accommodation and make few demands on your attention.

A colourful backdrop can’t brighten up dull goings-on as familiar faces tread a predictable path over a well worn plot.

Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Smith) want to expand their hotel business by buying the Hotel Splendid. So they travel to San Diego to meet potential investors to finance the deal.

Back in Jaipur, silver haired and silver tongued American writer Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) arrives unannounced. Snobbish and insecure idiot Sonny is convinced he is a secret inspector sent by the investors to spy on their business.

Sonny is so pre-occupied with keeping Guy happy he neglects bridezilla fiancee Sunaina (Tena Desae), pushing her towards the handsome, wealthy Kushal (Shazad Latif).

Patel’s agitated playing grates rather than charms or entertains, Smith’s cockney charlady accent is inconsistent while Desae mostly spends her time dancing or scolding.

Meanwhile it’s all a little Are You Being Served? on the Costa Plonka as several hotbeds of passion are in full swing. Guy has his glad eye on Sonny’s glamorous mother Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey). Madge (Celia Imrie) is after anything in or out of trousers.

As Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) work up the courage to seize the day – and each other – his wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) turns up.

There’s a bit of a carry on when Norman (Ronald Pickup) inadvertently hires a tuc tuc driver as a hit-man to assassinate his girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

Among the stunning scenery of rural Jaipur there are elephants, cows and camels. Street markets bustle with hard bargaining and backhand payments. Mumbai has airports, air conditioning, business conferences and heavy traffic.

Residents are affected by the universal ailments longing, loss and loneliness but room is also found for optimism in late middle age.

The ending suggests a loss of nerve by the scriptwriters who otherwise bandy creaky knee jokes about with abandon. As well as equally creaky ones about hips, eyes, backbones and mortality.

The actors aren’t asked to exert themselves so much as to risk an injury and it’s all far too familiar to be exotic. Definitely second best, at best.

☆☆☆