In the very near future, the South Africans develop a near indestructible robot to supplement the human police forces across the country. When one of the ‘bots is disabled and ordered to the crusher, its developer, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), hijacks the damaged android only to be kidnapped by unsavory thugs. He puts an experimental chip into the robot that will make him thinking, feeling being named “Chappie” and the story takes its direction.
The average movie-goer is going to love “Chappie” with its sassy titular character transforming from automaton cop ‘bot to a tat-covered, bling-draped hipster who talks the talk and walks the walk. Unfortunately, for me it is a movie that does not pay homage to previous films (“Robocop,” “Short Circuit” come to mind) but borrows liberally and directly from these and other movies. (Watching one phase of Chappie’s humanification, I could not get the image of Jar Jar Binks out of my head and I am not the only one who thought that.)
Neill Blomkamp rose to international fame with his flashy debut film about outcast aliens trying to fit in on Earth, “District 9.” That movie put him on the filmmaker map and that fame followed with “Elysium,” a convoluted and confused mash up of sci-fi and proletariat versus wealthy story threads (plus many others). With “Chappie,” the director and co-writer (with Terri Tatchell) opts for cute (like Number 5 in “Short Circuit”) combined with a “Robocop” bad corporate guy trying to take control of the killer robot biz (very much like Ronny Cox in the latter film).
The dialog is simplistic in its trying to be cool with gangsta hipsters Ninja (Ninja) and Yolandi (Yo-Landi Visser) being the daddy and mommy to their evolving robot child. They teach him slang, the “cool” walk but cannot get him to take up arms to kill people. This leads to the expected hijinks and humor before the big climax when Chappie takes on the bad guy’s monster, heavily armed ‘bot. It is all done by the numbers with nothing unexpected happening.
The characters, across the board, are two-dimensional only. Dev Patel is likable as Deon but it is the same character he always plays. Hugh Jackman phones in his performance as uber bad guy Vincent Moore (they could have cast a robot in his place with little difference). Ninja and Yo-Landi, as the hipster are, at once, amusing and annoying. And, why did Sigourney Weaver to take the thankless role of the stick figure corporate head, Michelle Bradley?
For what it is, “Chappie” has its entertaining bits and will appeal to the younger crowd – not too young since it is rated “R” – but it is too clichéd and redundant for me. I give it a C-.
At Johannesburg's Tetravaal robotics company, designer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman in a really bad mullet) is angry that the police favor his rival Deon Wilson's (Dev Patel, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") humanoid AI Scout robots over his human controlled Moose (the spitting image of ED-209). Wilson has something even more surprising up his sleeve, but when his CEO (Sigourney Weaver) nixes testing, he steals broken down Scout #22 to install his new software, creating a sentient machine. Then all hell breaks loose. Moore does the unthinkable, shutting down the Scout bots, just as Wilson's kidnapped by outlaws who'd hoped he could do the same. Instead they find they may have something more formidable, the upgraded version just waiting to be trained. They name it "Chappie."
What a load of rubbish (or more accurately, scrap metal) - cowriter (with wife Terri Tatchell)/director Neill Blomkamp ("District 9," "Elysium") has made an ugly, noisy, horribly acted movie so derivative of other films ("Robocop" and "Short Circuit" just to name two) that, after his last rehash, "Elysium," it's beginning to look like "District 9" was Blomkamp's only creative idea. In a film featuring Oscar nominees Jackman and Weaver along with South African rap duo Die Antwoord, it says a lot that the most convincing performance comes from Dev Patel even as he struggles with illogical character decisions.
The film begins with a display of the Scout bots in action with their human counterparts breaking up a drug deal. After a lot of fire power, the main protagonists get away, but Hippo (Brandon Auret, "Elysium") demands a $20 million payoff from Ninja's (Ninja Visser of rap duo Die Antwoord) gang for the destruction of his product. Yolandi (Yo-Landi Visser of rap duo Die Antwoord) suggests that if they can get the guy who built the Scouts, he must have a 'remote' that can turn them off. Instead they get Chappie (voice of Sharlto Copley, "District 9"), who, when powered up for the first time with his new o/s, is 'like a baby.' Yolandi gets all maternal, incensed that Ninja is trying to turn Chappie into a gangsta.
If the idea of a robot talking rap gangsta slang sounds funny, it maybe could have been, but in Blomkamp's hands Chappie comes across more like a more annoying version of "Transformer 2's" Mudflap and Skids. At least he's in like company - Yolandi is only able to act in shrill mode and Ninja can't maintain a character consistent with the material.
Production design is ugly, with a lead robotics designer working in a grubby cubicle farm while his CEO is ensconced in a paneled office circa 1970. The only amusing touch is Ninja's license plate (FOKOFF). The film's sound is enough to give one a headache, accentuated by Hans Zimmer's score and Die Antwoord tracks.
"Chappie" makes the "Transformers" look charming in comparison.
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