Starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser and Hugh Jackman. Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell. Directed by Neill Blomkamp.
A smoldering dumpster fire of second-hand elements from better movies, Chappie is the kind of fiasco that ends careers. It’s idiotic, incoherent and downright punishing to sit through – unless you’ve been hankering for an ultra-violent remake of Short Circuit in which Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy are played by Die Antwoord.
No, I didn’t know who they were, either – and I’m sorrier for having learned. But the short version of all this is that Chappie takes place in pretty much the same junkyard, semi-futuristic scrap-heap as director Neill Blomkamp’s previous pictures District 9 and Elysium. This time he’s got a bunch of robot drone cops busting up the ghettoes, and even though it’s his third lap around he still can’t figure out how to start a movie or build a world without adopting a fake documentary format in which newscasters (including Anderson Cooper and his questionable pronunciation of the word “robut”) fill us in on all the exposition before being abruptly abandoned.
So all these Robo-Po-Po come from an South African weapons manufacturing company where Hugh Jackman is allowed to stroll down the hallways in khaki shorts and a half-assed mullet, tormenting software genius Dev Patel (I guess he’s a step up from Fisher Stevens’ brownface Indian caricature in Short Circuit, though not nearly as memorable because Dev Patel is boring.) It’s an office where Jackman can wander across cubicles, smack around his co-worker and taunt him at gunpoint without anyone looking up from their desks. The place is run by Sigourney Weaver, who has nothing at all to do here besides the now-rote cliche of Ripley giving her benediction to this next generation of sci-fi filmmakers by benefit of her phoned-in appearance with an “and” before her name in the credit block.
Jackman has a bee in his bonnet because the company favors Patel’s sleek, android RoboCops over his lumbering, super-expensive ED-209. You might think I’m exaggerating but it’s seriously an outright Verhoven steal – this is practically fan-fiction as Blomkamp just up and put an ED-209 in his movie. Meanwhile, Dev Patel figured out the algorithm for artificial intelligence over tea one night and installed it in a faulty, soon-to-be junked drone, who attains sentience and eventually becomes our title character.
A word or three about Chappie – he’s fucking annoying. Motion-captured by serial ham Sharlto Copley, this rabbit-eared robot flails his limbs around, never shuts up and refers to himself in the third person all the goddamn time. (After a few moments in his presence, one longs for the easy and tranquil conversation of Jar Jar Binks.) For reasons that I can’t even get into because life has an expiration date, Chappie ends up adopted by the thuggish Die Antwoord criminals and starts pulling jobs.
I am told these people are an actual South African rap act, but all I could see was a woman with horrible bangs (Yo-Landi Visser) accompanied by a reject from one of Harmony Korine’s earlier films (looked him up and apparently this is a grown man insisting on being called Ninja) struggling their way through awful dialogue. The third member of their gang is Jose Pablo Cantillo, who offers the robot a brief tutorial in acting like a proper cholo, so we get the delightful business of an android decked out in 1986 bling committing petty crimes. A lot of it looks like deleted scenes from Colors, except with a robot.
Chappie gets more insane from here, but never as so-bad-its-good-entertaining as I fear I might be making it sound. It’s just bloody awful and doesn’t make any sense. The picture honestly builds up to a point where characters are uploading files marked “so-and-so’s consciousness.dat” onto thumb-drives so people you (supposedly) like won’t have to actually die.
Neill Blomkamp reached the bottom of his admittedly clever bag of tricks maybe forty minutes into District 9, and then went tits-out on a splattery gore-fest to keep us distracted from the fact that he’d run out of ideas. (Still wondering what the Academy was huffing nominating that one for Best Picture.) His follow-up Elysium was so fucking stupid it made me long for the days when we were still allowed to use the word “retarded” as a pejorative.
This dude made an acclaimed, Oscar-nominated movie about a spaceship that’s been hovering over Johannesburg for twenty-odd years because it ran out of gas. I dunno guys, I just don’t think he’s the kind of filmmaker who thinks things through.