Friday, March 6, 2015

A Reel Review: CHAPPIE

All movies start with a single idea; whether it be a giant ape climbing a building, two robots in the desert, or a burning sled. But having a great idea isn’t enough; you have to build your film around it and what you build and how you build it is what really matters. Such is the task for Neill Blomkamp’s science-fiction flick CHAPPIE. 

In the near future, the city of Johannesburg, South Africa is protected by robot-cops called Scouts, created by Deon (Dev Patel). After Patel discovers the secret to artificial intelligence and upgrades a Scout named Chappie (motion-captured and voiced by Sharlto Copley),  the two are kidnapped by gangsters who want them to commit crimes. Meanwhile, a weapons engineer (Hugh Jackman) seeks to sabotage Chappie and the Scouts to further his own interests and to impress the corporate boss (Sigourney Weaver). 

Let’s get one thing out of the way now: Chappie the robot, as he is realized on-screen, is nothing short of a cinematic miracle. When he achieves consciousness, he has the mind of a child…and his journey of learning, latching onto parental-figures, trying, failing, and succeeding is executed brilliantly and enough to make anyone laugh, cry, smile, and weep. The visual effects to bring him to life are stunning, and he becomes a fully-realized character with enough human traits to love. 

The problem is, everything around Chappie the robot is cinematic crap. The overall plot is contrived and very weak (the entire issue of Chappie being forced to commit crimes can be resolved by a single phone-call), characters are one-note clich├ęs and very unlikeable, and the story shifts from predictable to silly to dumb in the blink of an eye. The script is weak and full of convenience, and the obvious themes of what-it-is-to-be-human are mentioned but never explored to make any sort of a splash. 

The biggest mistake the film makes is the casting of Yolandi Visser and Ninja from the South African rap-group Die Antwood as the dipshit gangsters. Their acting is equal to a Looney Tunes cartoon, and worse, Blomkamp makes the even-more-bizarre decision to include their music AND their merchandise all over the film. It’s the most bizarre and un-effective method of product-placement ever seen on film. Also, Blomkamp throughout the film seems confused on a specific style. CHAPPIE begins in the framework of interviewees telling the story, but the approach is abandoned and quickly forgotten. 

Outside of Sharlto Copley’s brilliant performance as Chappie, acting is a mess. Slackjaw-droopface Dev Patel still can’t act his way out of a bag of nuts and bolts, and Hugh Jackman just chews up the scenery. Sigourney Weaver is in the movie for what seems like five seconds, and the less that is said about the Die Antwood disaster the better. 

After a huge shootout which feels like 500 hours long, CHAPPIE goes for an ending which is supposed to shock and engage thought, but ultimately comes off as insanely stupid and really pushes the limits of what anyone is willing to believe in a sci-fi movie. CHAPPIE starts off with a fantastic and classic idea of a sentient machine, but terrible decisions in casting and scripting derail the entire thing. The most frustrating thing about it is that Chappie the robot is greatness surrounded by awfulness, and that hurts to watch.


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