“Chappie” is the third film from writer-director Neill Blomkamp, the man behind “District 9” and “Elysium”. In the not-so-distant future, robotic police are the main source of protection on the streets. When one of these police droids is stolen and reprogrammed, it begins to act and think for itself. Blomkamp collaborator Sharito Copley voiced Chappie, while Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel and Sigourney Weaver also star.
“District 9” came in 2009 and was nominated for five Oscars while simultaneously putting writer-director Neill Blomkamp on everyone’s watch list. His 2013 follow-up, “Elysium” was met with polarizing reviews, with many people including myself feeling the narrative left more to be desired. I was hoping he would be able to rebound with “Chappie”, but unfortunately he only manages to take another step backwards.
One of the biggest problems about “Chappie” is that there really isn’t a single likable character in the film. The main “heroes” who raise Chappie are all druggie scumbags, and when they face off against other druggie scumbags you really don’t care if they live or die.
Hugh Jackman really doesn’t have much to do, as most of the film he is complaining about how his invention doesn’t get enough funding, or he is sitting in a chair controlling a robot. In Sigourney Weaver’s two brief scenes she just spews out cliché big business dialogue.
The film’s overall narrative and pacing are very stretched, too. The idea of a robot getting consciousness is not anywhere near original, and “Chappie” doesn’t do much to add anything new to this rehashed story. Most of the film is Chappie being trained by the scumbag druggies to act like a scumbag druggie, so it gets really repetitive really fast.
As a director, Blomkamp knows where to put a camera and how to shoot an action scene; that is clear from all three of his films. But as a writer, and getting performances out of his actors, he has a long way to go. Forgetting that he oversaw what is universally accepted as one of Jodie Foster’s worst-ever performances in “Elysium”, here he gives bad actors horrible lines of dialogue to say, and it ends about as well as you may think. What’s worse is all-too-often these horrible actors make their eyes get huge or yell something for no reason, and it is almost cringe-inducing.
“Chappie” has the special effects and (left unanswered) existential questions that Blomkamp has become known for (this time questioning what makes us human and why would God give us life if we all end up dying?), but they aren’t enough. It does so many things wrong and makes you scratch your head all too often to even be a fun robot action movie. You don’t relate with any of the characters and you aren’t invested in their motivations. Blomkamp wants you to question what the point of life is; I question what the point of this movie is.
Critics Rating: 4/10