Chappie (2015)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Chappie</strong> (2015)

(On Cable TV, January 2016) I’m … not sure where to begin with Chappie, given how many problems it has. I want to applaud it as a third consecutive original science-fiction film by writer/director Neill Blomkamp, even if it’s nowhere near as good as the quasi-classic District 9, nor close to the ambitious disappointment that was Elysium. I’d like to rave about the special effects almost perfectly integrated with its gritty cinematography, but I found much of the film’s focus on the zef subculture to be actively irritating to the point of distraction. Despite being open to different experiences and worldviews, slumming with Die Antwoord actors in decaying Johannesburg tested the limits of my tolerance. For every good concept in Chappie (not the least being the corruption of an artificial intelligence by selfish human parenting), there seems to be two or three truly bad ideas taking up far too much space, or sending the film in frustrating directions. While Chappie certainly is part of 2014–2015’s cinematic anno roboticis, it also works without rigour, throwing in personality uploading as a third-act bonus without exploring a significant fraction of such a breakthrough’s implications. It would rather retreat in robot-criminal jokes and give far too much screen time to aggravating characters. Blomkamp is a skilled director, but he can’t do it all. He needs a competent writing partner who can point out the absurdity of his stories. He needs someone to highlight that irritation on-screen often become exasperation off-screen. He needs to make more judicious use of his actors, because Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel and Sigourney Weaver are almost entirely wasted here. I’m trying to be nice and not say anything bad about the Die Antwoord performers, but the best I can do is mention that Watkin Tudor Jones (as “Ninja”) can be surprisingly charismatic at times—I make no such claims regarding Yolandi Visser. Few other big-budget productions I can recall have moments as annoying as Chappie does with its criminals teaching a newly sentient robot about their lives. At the end of the film, we’re left cheated of a better movie using most of the same elements.

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