Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language and brief Nudity
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Hugh Jackman & Sigourney Weaver
In 2009, a little film called DISTRICT 9 burst onto the cinematic scene and surprised the hell out of everybody. It seemed like a fantastic new master of mature science fiction had been born in director/writer Neill Blomkamp. Everyone was stoked to see his follow-up effort, ELYSIUM, with the hopes that it wouldn’t disappoint…and it sort of disappointed. While ELYSIUM was just okay at best, I still found myself hesitantly excited for CHAPPIE. Now that I’ve sat through Blomkamp’s third feature, I can say that I’m a bit worried for his next film (an entry in the ALIEN series). CHAPPIE is a mess that doesn’t necessarily know what it wants to be and doesn’t have a single character worth rooting for.
In the near future, South Africa has employed the use of robotic police, Scouts, to help enforce the law and bring down crime. Deon Wilson, genius behind the Scouts, is now working on something far more important in his eyes. He wants to build a living, thinking robot with a conscious A.I. After a trio of ridiculous looking gangstas kidnap Deon, he is given an opportunity to do just that. Using a rundown Scout, Deon creates Chappie! Chappie is like a child, but with a higher IQ. While the trio of thugs want to train Chappie to fight for them, Deon is more concerned about Chappie embracing his newly given life. Unfortunately for everyone, a snarky weapons designer plans to stop Deon, destroy Chappie, and sell his own battle droid.
CHAPPIE is not an original movie. There are definite influences all throughout the film. It reminded me of a hodgepodge of SHORT CIRCUIT, ROBOCOP, and BIG HERO 6. It’s also not at all subtle in its messages and commentary. The nature of God, feelings, and what it means to be alive are all brought up multiple times to a frustratingly excessive level. Everything in this film feels so recycled and dusty. Chappie’s journey is interesting enough to watch, but the movie really doesn’t focus on his journey and instead makes the gangstas manipulating him into the main plot. I thought this film was middle-of-the-road until the final 30 minutes (which are so stupidly godawful that you’re liable to get brain damage from smacking your forehead so much).
Die Antwoord is a South African rap group playing two of the cartoonish looking gangstas in this film. Besides playing over-the-top and exaggerated versions of themselves (using their real names), their music is also heard through the film’s soundtrack. This was a clear creative decision made on Blomkamp’s part that doesn’t work in the slightest. I couldn’t take Die Antwoord’s members seriously as hardened gangstas in this film and they are main characters who I was supposed to care about. As if this weren’t enough, Dev Patel plays his genius character as a whiny little wuss who seems like a clichéd nerd stereotype (going as far as to yell “Philistines!” as an insult to the gangstas). Sigourney Weaver shows up for a total of five minutes tops as a weapons dealer and is totally wasted. Hugh Jackman is the only human character that I really liked, but he’s basically playing a predictable villain. Maybe, it was just because I was watching Wolverine play this robotics genius using underhanded methods to get his way, but I enjoyed every scene with Jackman. Sharlto Copley is entertaining as Chappie, but he’s really not much of a character given that he should be the main focus of this movie.
I really don’t know what Blomkamp was going for with CHAPPIE and I don’t think that he did either. The inclusion of the band Die Antwoord is distracting and ridiculous beyond belief. There’s also this exaggerated wacky vibe to the whole film that doesn’t work. The supposedly sentimental scenes (including Chappie being read a bedtime story) come off as silly rather than heartwarming. Apparently, Blomkamp wrote this screenplay as an intended trilogy and we’ll likely never see the two follow-up chapters. It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t fully dislike this film until it really jumped the shark in the final 30 minutes. The ending is just mind-numbingly stupid. CHAPPIE is, at the very least, a lackluster disappointment.