REEL BOB: “Chappie”
By Bob Bloom
Neill Blomkamp is an imaginative and visually exciting director. But as a writer, he lacks discipline and a keen sense of what to retain or delete from his scripts. And that is evident in “Chappie,” a science-fiction outing brimming with ideas — too many of them for the film’s own good.
Because Blomkamp co-wrote the script, he filled “Chappie” with so many concepts that the movie lacks a consistent tone. Blomkamp needed someone to rein him in. “Chappie” is a thriller, an allegory and a meditation on what it means to be human; at times, it plays like “Pinocchio Meets RoboCop.” The film bounces around like a youngster continually distracted in a toy store who can’t make up his mind what he wants and runs from aisle to aisle.
Like Blomkamp’s previous features, “District 9” and “Elysium,” the premise is promising. “Chappie” is set in 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where a corporation has developed a line of robots to aid the local police force.
Dev Patel plays Deon, who developed the robot programming. He is working on a project to instill the robots with artificial intelligence. But when his boss refuses to allow Deon to run a test, he steals a damaged automaton and experiments on it.
Thus Chappie is born.
The motion-capture performance of Sharlto Copley as the sentient robot Chappie is the major reason to see the movie. Copley infuses a childlike innocence as he learns and matures over the space of five days. He has a moral compass that surpasses most of the humans with whom he interacts.
Also involved in the plot are a pair of good-hearted criminals, Ninja and Yo-Landi, played by a pair of popular South African rappers — Ninja and Yolandi Visser — who are favorites of Blomkamp’s. Yolandi, at least, brings some humanity to her part, while Ninja is pure caricature, changing without reason as the plot demands.
Hugh Jackman, as a disgruntled co-worker of Deon’s, who has developed an alternative to the robots, plays the villain of the piece. He begins as a quirky adversary, but by the end, becomes the usual cartoonish psychopath. That his creation looks like the ED-209 creation from “RoboCop” must not have bothered Blomkamp in the least.
“Chappie” is filled with several head-scratching moments — actually way too many to delve into here. But you will sense them when they crop up.
“Chappie” has a strong first reel and a satisfying conclusion. Blomkamp should have sought rewrites and an editor for the sequences in between. The film at times seems repetitious as Chappie goes through his various stages of maturing and growing intellectually.
“Chappie” is not a bad film. Sadly, with some discipline and self-restraint from Blomkamp it could have been a much better film.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at Reel Bob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
2½ YAPS out of 5
(R), graphic violence, language, brief nudity