Release Date: March 6th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Neill Blomkamp Actors: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Yo-Landi Visser, Ninja, Jose Pablo Cantillo
s with all of Neill Blomkamp’s works, the director attempts to create a completely alien world with its own geography, culture, and societies – and then tell a complex story in just two hours. “Chappie” begins no differently, but instead of focusing on one central plotline, the movie tries to merge several elaborate themes, which not only conflict but also could have easily filled their own separate films. The concept of creating artificial intelligence that must learn through observation is one with vast potential and endless exploration, yet it feels considerably restricted within the confining walls of a derivative action movie.
In a not-so-distant Johannesburg, South Africa, the implementation of a robot police force has drastically reduced crime. Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), the creator of the lifesaving “Scout” android, responsible for disrupting the anarchy of heavily-armed heisters, envisions progress beyond mere programmable weaponry. Despite objections from the Tetravaal company CEO, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), he tests his artificial consciousness on a damaged unit primed for disposal.
Intent on shutting down the authorities’ mechanized infantry by gaining control of a possible universal remote, a gang kidnaps Deon, but instead acquires “Chappie,” a childlike robot yearning for guidance and acceptance. As Yolandi (Yolandi Visser), Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones), and Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo) attempt to teach Chappie the gangster lifestyle, Deon asks the impressionable android to swear never to participate in criminal activities. When Chappie discovers his battery is dying and that the only way to pay for a replacement body is to pull off a heist, he must decide if doing the wrong thing for the right reason is worth breaking his promise – all while a monstrous threat descends upon his ragtag family of outlaws.
It’s not just an updated “Robocop” (1987) in spirit; “Chappie” is essentially a complete copycat. From the chaotic streets of a poverty-ridden slum to the competing businessmen at a defense company in bed with police forces to the character and robot designs (MOOSE is far beyond a simple homage to ED-209), “Chappie” steals its entire setup from Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi masterpiece. Counterparts for nearly every role seem to manifest until the premise is unmistakably imitative. And the remaining, smaller details are just as second-hand, swiped from other pictures including “The Terminator,” “I, Robot,” and “The Road Warrior.”
Despite the complete lack of originality, “Chappie” does possess a certain amusement in the hopelessly irreverent foster parents who attempt to craft him in their own disagreeable likenesses. Sporting urban bling and brandishing a handgun sideways are momentarily wry nods of social commentary permeating the obvious class disparities (an element of many futuristic, dystopian settings), but it wears thin in repeated doses. The morality tale doesn’t fit with the tone or environment; Blomkamp apparently can’t make a straightforward actioner devoid of connections to South Africa’s socioeconomic and political climates. In the end, those themes are unable to win out against the wildly farfetched science-fiction notions of digitizing consciousness and showcasing an artificial intelligence designed to duplicate the learning process of a human infant (or a frightened animal). And they’re just as unimpressive. The parenting bits, intended to be compelling, become downright silly.
Casting Hugh Jackman in an antagonist role might seem like a fresh idea, but his part quickly devolves into an entirely predictable template. His character does everything audiences expect, based on the commonplace behaviors of countless movie villains – the types thrown in simply to add extra adversity. In many ways, “Chappie” plays out like the most formulaic of superhero endeavors, from stock heroes and villains to extensive CG to slow-motion-infused action sequences to neatly wrapped up conclusions – with just enough loose ends to make room for an easy sequel.
– The Massie Twins