Movie Review: Chappie
By Alex Yarde
Rated R, 120 minutes
After sitting through the glitchy mess that was Chappie. Alex Yarde is convinced Robocop and Johnny Five should never reproduce..
Director Blomkamp as a rookie hit a grand slam home run in his unforgettable allegory on Apartheid in his native South Africa District 9, which also borrowed heavily from the film and short-lived TV series Alien Nation. Then his next effort Elysium was basically an Obamacare commercial with badass Call Of Duty Exosuits. Now in his latetest sci-fi effort Chappie his battery may need a recharge.
This time the Robocop is a decommissioned bunny-eared Police Scout (brought to life by Blomkamp staple Sharlto Copley) given an unauthorized AI by his creator Deon (Dev Patel) who’s kidnapped by an inept criminal gang (non actors and South African Rappers Die Antwoord.) Sigourney Weaver cashes a paycheck as the dense head of a Robotics Manufacturer totally uninterested in developing Deon’s AI program which potentially would make them even more money, but the story, such as it is, is threadbare and recycled from a dozen far superior projects including the aforementioned Robocop, Short Circuit, Japanese anime Appleseed, Iron Giant & Disney’s Wall-E.
Chappie is all over the map. It’s a big budget sci-fi action movie comedy that also wants to be taken seriously as a treatise on Cartesian mind-body dualism. Hugh Jackman’s role is that of a one-dimensional mulleted bad guy who is super catholic for some reason. He’s the main protagonist and rival engineer of the ED 209 er. MOOSE alternative Robot Cop Prototype. In a recent interview Jackman said the film asks, “What is the soul? What is consciousness? Is it something definable by science or is part of something more mystical?” Good questions…….asked by every movie featuring artificial intelligence in the last 50 years. I wished some one in the production had simply asked “Hey, all this looks really cool but how important is the story?” The problem is the thin script simply isn’t up to the task.
I kept waiting for an intelligent or at least more original story I got teased with emotional payoff that never happened and got slam bam action and explosions. Like at Chappie’s “birth” which was I’m sure supposed to be endearing like ET’s discovery in the closet but just ended up kind of silly. Chappie’s mimicking mannerisms and speech of the gangsters and his evolution as a character interacting with humans kept me engaged. While his morality grew more and more complex. I particularly enjoyed a scene where Deon is lecturing Chappie and the robots demeanor was that of a rebellious sullen teenager. It had special moments; the relationship between his “mother” was at times funny and endearing. Which made my disappointment that much more deep when the inevitable Michael Bay ED 209 showdown happens. It’s shockingly uneven. As if Spielberg and Bay tag teamed directing a picture. It wants desperately to be this deep social commentary with comedic elements but also a mega blockbuster actioner but collapses under it’s own weight. Supposedly Neil Blomkamp quickly signed on for “Alien 5”. Before the reviews came out. At least with that kind of major studio tent pole pressure they will be able reign him in and polish his script somewhat. He’s got a distinctive visual gift and WETA as usual is stunning in bringing the artificial to life in a convincing way. My hope is he doesn’t go the full Shyamalan off the rails as a filmmaker.
Not to give away the open ending it paves the way for at least a sequel. Near misses like Chappie often do well with rental & digital downloads and develop a cult following. I hope so because Chappie the film like the machine, has glimmers of life to be enjoyed but is assembled out of mismatched spare parts. With some serious refitting, I’d be willing to see Chappie 2.0.
Directed by Neil Blomkamp; Written by Neil Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell; Starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman; Rated R for violence, language and brief nudity; 120 minutes.
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