Back in 2009, Neill Blomkampp directed a film about shrimps, South Africa, and cat food. Six years on, if you swap the shrimp aliens with robots (and the cat food with a rubber chicken) you have Blomkamp’s inferior successor, Chappie. Some of the parts may work, but the whole piece is a clunky contraption, much like its titular tin-can.
The plot itself is thrilling and simple: AI robotic soldiers dominate the South-African police force and have brought crime to an all-time low. Their creator, Deon (Dev Patel), takes his invention one step further by granting a dissolute robot with genuine sentience. Unfortunately Deon’s newest creation Chappie (Sharlto Copley) is born in the streets of Johannesburg, and the AI quickly begins to fall in with the wrong crowd.
Copley’s Chappie is a 21st century Pinocchio, full of naiveté and charm. Chappie’s mo-cap hinders some of the performance (mainly in facial nuances), but Copley still delivers a Serkis standard. The giddy blend between child-like fascination and an insecure titanium teenager in Chappie propel the film throughout; yet the tonal u-turns and bland script pull the plug on any major investment. Blomkamp and Tatchell may boast that they wrote the script in two weeks, but it clearly shows.
Dev Patel suffers most at the hands of his script: as decent an actor he may be, every line he says just jars with the film. Playing an engineering genius is one thing, but calling people ‘philistines’ who have a gun pointed towards your head is another. Patel’s character is written pretty shabbily, and he doesn’t rise above what the script offers him. Hugh Jackman pulls off being the bad-guy as military nut Vincent, who chases our heroes in his Robocop rip-off by the end of the film. Unfortunately, Blomkamp’s villains are so repetitive that they’re almost interchangeable between films. Sigourney Weaver should also be mentioned for doing a nice job cashing in that cheque the producers gave her for such a trite role.
The strangest addition to the picture however is rave-rapping duet Ninja and Yolandi from Die Antwood playing… Ninja and Yolandi. For some reason, the film banks on their celebrity status in South-Africa and relishes the self-advertisment of these two. They play their on-stage ‘personas’, they wear clothes promoting their albums, the soundtrack of the film is Die Antwood, they play the music within the film without acknowledging their own diegetic meta-mashing, and they’re even called Ninja and Yolandi within the world of Chappie. The music and mayhem of these ravers may adhere with the action fanfare of the film, but when we’re supposed to take these two seriously? We’re just left confused.
The effects and the action have improved over District 9, but it feels rushed in regards to everything else. Just as the third act picks up into some interesting territory, the plot attempts to wind up with happy endings all round, only to leave us more disappointed than if Tatchell decided to slaughter everyone. Sorry Die Antwood, your song may profess otherwise, but this ‘baby’ is not on fire.
Directed and Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, and Sharlto Copley
Run time: 120 mins