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Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Chappie

2015 has already found its Amazing Spider-Man 2, the fact that both films are made by Sony should surprise no one.

Chappie is terrible. 

Not the kind of terrible where you find yourself bored by what's displayed on screen. Really, when it comes to this latest offering from Neill Blomkamp, my mind rarely wandered other than on the continued hope that the credits would roll sooner than later. No, Chappie has a whole other issue at hand: that of the cinematic train-wreck variety.

Blomkamp is a case of some level of empathy for me, as I enjoyed but didn't love his Best Picture nominated District 9 and I loved but maybe didn't quite enjoy his blunt healthcare metaphor Elysium (I've never had the desire to watch it again). The fact remains, he's a filmmaker of real promise with a unique voice. Thusly, a misstep this large is very painful and showcases a creator that may well be on the decline at just the wrong time.

To understand the plot of Chappie: just envision someone took Robocop (along with the ED-209 as a third act adversary), Pinocchio, Short Circuit, Frankenstein, and the dirt-smeared grime of Elysium and tossed them all in a blender and then added an incredibly distasteful element, we'll say strychnine, as its stars.

"Wait", you may ask, "to whatever are you referring, Kyle? Doesn't this movie star Dev Patel as the creator of a series of police androids that he in turn decides to imbue one with an artificial intelligence? And doesn't it also feature Hugh Jackman as his military-minded rival who has his own man-controlled robot, Sigourney Weaver as their boss, and the fairly endearing though actor of questionable choices Sharlto Copley as the title character? What's the problem?" 

Well, you see, Neil Blomkamp really likes this one rap group...

Despite this very capable, and in two cases, Academy Award nominated cast; Blomkamp inexplicably decided to cast the South African hip-hop duo Die Antwoord as the leads of the film, playing two members of a gang that find Chappie and try to turn him into a tool to do their heist-like bidding. The problem? They can't act. At all.

Watching the pair, named Yo-landi and Ninja (off-screen and on) attempt to emote, create a menacing and then later a sympathetic presence, or really just relay any lines at all is a painful experience not too far removed from that of the brilliant thespian Tommy Wiseau (he of The Room fame). So instead, Chappie becomes the tale of two very different films, neither of them very good.

On one hand, you have Patel squaring off against Jackman in a battle of artificial intelligence against the ingenuity of man, at least that's what I think it's going for. Unfortunately, that film never quite gets the chance to allow its message to gel, because the second, much more intrusive film, which acts as a giant advertisement for Die Antwoord concerts and records, takes over at every possible moment. With their music playing throughout the soundtrack and the characters themselves wearing Die Antwoord shirts at various times, Blomkamp and team clearly wants to create a new wave of South African Hip-Hop fans. Though, let's not kid ourselves, neither warring faction that make up this automated nightmare is written well, and the blame for that falls strictly on Blomkamp (and his screenwriting partner and wife Terri Tatchell).

No one involved comes off in a good light here, Jackman is chewing scenery in a way that would make Wolverine cringe, Sigourney Weaver is given the junkiest dialogue imaginable ("What? Artificial Intelligence?? That doesn't make any money!") and there was a guy cast as a gangster villain who the producers clearly realized later that no one could understand, so he gets his own subtitles. Even poor Dev Patel has to make do with screaming lines about Chappie never losing his creativity, while Ninja yells at Chappie for trying to paint.

And Chappie himself? Copley attempts to imbue him with some budding humanity, but when he's forced to play second fiddle to a pair of knuckleheads and has to perform in problematic scenes where he's scared of black youth and deal with pseudo-van rape imagery, his attempts are foiled from the start.

Yes, indeed, Chappie is the "midnight movie" of 2015 and I didn't even mention how Chappie, in an attempt to save himself as his body begins to run out of power, is able to transfer his consciousness via a Sony Vaio and 20 Playstation 4s! Did I tell you this was a Sony film? Because you'll sure find out during the course of Chappie's horrifyingly overlong running time.

There are probably other moments worth mentioning, Chappie himself is well designed and the mo-cap work is rather seamless. It's a shame that Max Poolman and the Weta Workshop's efforts are just surrounded by so much garbage. It deserves to be in a better movie, seriously, any movie. I'll take Kingsman 20x over this...heck, I'd watch last year's turd of a Robocop remake before I subject myself to Blomkamp's big faceplant again.

If this is what we have to expect for the future, I hate to say it, but it's not too late to take the Alien franchise away from this guy. We'll all be better off perhaps.

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