Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Sony Pictures, released March 6, 2015. 210 minutes.
The premise: In the year 2016 a police robot in Johannesburg achieves sentience.
The story: Slated for scrap after being damaged too many times, Scout 22 is saved by creator of the Scout police bots, Deon Wilson, who has been trying to create a program that would give machines sentience. He has brought this idea to his boss, Michelle Bradley, but she declines his desire to test his program, laughing at him for trying to convince her to teach a military bot to write poetry. Before he can escape with the broken 22, he’s kidnapped by Ninja and Amerika, two gangsters of a trio (rounded out by Yolandi) who want him to give them the off switch to all the Scouts so they can make a heist of on a truck scheduled to carry 500 million dollars–they need the money to pay off Hippo, the overlord of Johannesburg. Seeing that Deon has a deactivated bot in the back of his van, the gangsters have him turn it on and he inserts its new programing.
From this point on there are a never ending series of highs and lows. The highs begin whenever humans aren’t involved. Chappie is an interesting character and how he evolves over the course of five days is fun to watch. The lows occur whenever a human is on the screen with him because what the story has them do to each and the Scout are so unbelievable or corny as to make one wish everyone would die. One early problem is that there’s only one tracking computer for the one hundred Scouts at work in the city, and only one person knows where 22 is at all times? I doubt any business would allow that to happen. There’s also only one “god chip” that is used to update the Scouts? I know of no business that would put all its eggs in one basket. There has to be another chip somewhere. The gangsters are Z-level cartoon characters. At one point the opening of the old He-Man cartoon is shown, and he has more range in his two minutes than Ninja and Yolandi. Causing trouble at work for Deon is Vincent Moore whose own robot creation, the monstrous MOOSE, has been given the back seat in production and funding because of the creation of the Scouts. He pulls a gun on Deon at work, witnessed by all the employees in the office and it’s not reported? The logic of this story defies belief. The final battle is completely unnoticed by the Johannesburg police, and no one at the company is monitoring what one character is doing. Logic be damned.
What saves the movie from an F is Chappie when he’s alone and not mirroring his gangster family. Once sentient he’s a rational individual that has wants and needs that should be melting audience’s hearts. The last ten minutes of the movie go into a better story area, that is much more science fiction themed than robot police officers. This is the movie that Blomkamp should have been telling. Then again, if one looks too closely, it mirrors Blomkamp’s own District 9. Overall grade: D-
The actors: Sharlto Copley, Blomkamp favorite of District 9 and Elysium, performs Chappie via motion control technology. If you’ve seen him in other films his voice is recognizable once the robot speaks. Every indignity that Chappie faces is like a kick to the gut, and all it takes is the lowering of the bot’s ears, which make him very similar to Briareos from Appleseed, to have viewers’ sympathies. He does a great job on this movie. Dev Patel, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, plays Scout creator Deon Wilson. He has a fantastic scene where he works all night for the nine hundredth and something time to create a sentience program. However, once achieved, he reacts to scenes, rather than acts, but that’s what the script has his character do. It’s only at the end of the film that he gets to go beyond the expected. Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er play gangsters Ninja and Yolandi. Their characters were the worst written outcasts from 2000 AD and their range is one note: he’s an unintentionally one-note crook and she’s his petite moll with a heart of gold. I dreaded every time he appeared on the screen with his cartoonish behavior and performance and winced slightly less when she spoke. Together the pair are the rap-rave group Die Antwoord in real life, who had a mild hit with 2012’s “I Fink U Freeky.” They even wear clothes that bear their group’s name in the film. It was “Spot the Ad” often. Jose Pablo Cantillo is okay as Amerika, who is not near as cartoonish as the other two, but still had to do and say ridiculous things because of the script. The most cartoonish character is Brandon Auret as Hippo, who is more suited for Mad Max than this film. Sigourney Weaver is playing Paul Reiser’s role from Aliens in this film, so her career is going somewhat full circle. She’s in the movie for less than ten minutes and that’s about how much time her flat character deserves. Hugh Jackman is Vincent Moore and he’s just cheesy. Watching his head pop up from his cubicle was like The Office for psychopaths. All that was missing from his performance was twirling a large mustache. His final scenes are painful. Overall grade: D+
The effects: Chappie looks terrific and MOOSE is a decent enough steroid version of ED 209 from Robocop, but even the wonder of a moving robot became boring with a story this bad. It was thrilling to watch the Scouts in the opening sequence go into a criminal’s hideout, but Chappie was just another character as the story went on. That’s a compliment to those responsible for his effects, Weta Workshop, but the story doesn’t give them much to do. The final battle got silly with all of MOOSE’s weapons, and even it looked like go-motion technology at times. It’s not even worth seeing for those that love effects. Overall grade: B-
The final line: An A-level idea done with D-level choices. I couldn’t sit through this again, even to laugh at it. I’m now officially worried about Blomkamp’s upcoming Alien movie. Overall grade: D