Chappie – 2015
Director Neill Blomkamp
Starring Sharlto Copley (voice and stop motion), Dev Patel, Watkin Tudor Jones, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman
Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
It’s beginning to feel like Neill Blomkamp may be the next M, Night Shyamalan. He has several distinctive qualities that are unlike other filmmakers. He also has the emotional and political range of a daisy air rifle. District 9 was a great start in demonstrating his effects prowess. If the message of the film – an indictment of apartheid – is about a decade behind in relevance, it could be forgiven as a young auteur telling us about that with which he was familiar. The second time, Elysium had effects that were just as good, but the politics – a rallying cry for socialized medicine – is naïve and the plot is labored.
Now we have an ode to artificial intelligence. I wonder what we will learn about humanity…
The story begins with a team of four small time crooks that we’ll call The Thompson Twins. They are assaulted by a bad guy that soon enough turns them into a trio. This is okay, though, because they are better as a trio. Or maybe not. Their party is interrupted by the new breed of police attack robots. One of these robots, #22, is damaged in the assault and afterwards assigned to the scrap-heap.
The creator of the robots, Deon (Patel), wants to upgrade his creations. After developing a program for A.I., he steals #22 and for purposes of testing the program. For reasons that make no sense at all, Deon lives in track housing, with little or no security. One would figure the safety of the creator of the police force might be important to someone.
Before you can say “plug and play” he is kidnapped by the Thompson Twins, who want to use Deon to get the bounty “owed” the big bad guy, Hippo.
In a sequence too convoluted to be true, he is allowed to initialize his creation, but almost immediately placed into peril by the leader of the Thompson Twins. Meanwhile, Vincent Moore (Jackman) gets wind of Deon’s plans and puts another crimp in the design. Moore’s goal is his own project, called Moose, into the good graces of the head of the company, Michelle Bradley (Weaver).
But the problem is, #22 is but a child and everything is new to him and more than a little frightening. The blonde chick Thompson Twin names him Chappie, mainly to bug the crap out of the few people who’ve hung on thus far. Chappie experiences everything with a remarkable naiveté that is as hard to believe as it is conveniently applied,
Chappie invariably ends up out of the hands of the “creator” and wondering throughout the country performing a variety of felonies. This is before things get really out of hand.
If the film feels familiar, it should. The story is essentially Robocop with Transcendence mixed in. It is entertaining in a limited way. Everything depends on how much of the Johannesburg gangster dialect one can tolerate. Once more, the effects are exceptional. It is worth watching just to see the fluidity of the motion in the droids, other than the ED-209 clone, Moose. And if, thankfully, the preaching is kept to a minimum, so too is the amount of common sense applied in the last act. Nice last scene, though.
The acting is spotty, and not at all helped by the plot. Dev Patel is okay, even though he is thrown into overdrive by the plot. Speaking of hyperdrive, Copely is hyper-kinetic. At times his robotic / ethnic jive is impossible to decipher, but other times it works. Jackman’s character, in fact his whole plot line, is idiotic. It’s enough to make one forget the movies in which he does act. The Thompson Twins are annoying through and through. Weaver is wasted.
Blomkamp’s next film is covering a topic near to my cinematic heart. the fifth film in the Sigourney Weaver Alien franchise. It will no doubt be a visual spectacle. I worry about his ability to give as compelling a script. For better or worse, here we go. I just hope he makes it more sensibly than this story.
(*** out of *****)