To paraphrase a bumper sticker often seen above a pair of TRUCK NUTZ, “A bad day at the movies beats a good day doing anything else”. I abide by this saying almost always. I can have a genuinely good time at even the worst movie. There’s always something that makes it worth the price of admission. Not so for Chappie. I’m a Neil Blomkamp fan. District 9 is a very good science fiction movie with some light touch social commentary. Elysium went heavy-handed with its social commentary, but was ultimately enjoyable because of it’s really nice action. Chappie is a straight up atrocity.
Chappie is a police robot. He’s not named Chappie at the start, he has a number designation as part of a robot policing program. But he has bad luck and keeps getting damaged. His creator, Dev Patel, wants to try out a new AI program but is shot down by his bosses. He steals the broken robot to test his new creation. However, he’s kidnapped by the movie’s “protagonists” played by the South African “rap” band Die Antwoord who are playing themselves in a spectacularly poor shot at some kind of meta narrative. Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser are the names of these two people. They are terrible actors. They are terrible characters. This is a terrible movie.
There’s a long tradition of having leads in a movie be morally ambiguous. It can make for a very compelling narrative. From To Live and Die in L.A. to Breaking Bad, bad people can be a lot of fun to watch. But there has to be either an arc where they change or they have to pay for the consequences of their actions. In Chappie, Die Antwoord steal the robot and decide to teach him how to be gangster. So we’re treated to many scenes of these two tattooed assholes teaching Chappie how to hold a gun like a gangster, wear gold chains and grab his dick. Meanwhile, Dev Patel keeps coming back to try and train Chappie the right way to be a robot. Then there’s Hugh Jackman. He plays the head of a competing division and has developed a large, human-controlled ED-209 looking robot that has been shoved aside in favor of the Chappie models. He works out of a cubicle, wears cargo shorts and combat boots, is armed with a handgun and has a mullet. And I have no idea why he is in this movie.
Sharlto Copley plays Chappie. He provides the motion capture for the CGI robot in a performance that looks like something out of a freshman JUCO movement class. It’s all big, silly movements that would make a mime cry. And the voice. I’m not supposed to actively wish for the violent death of the robot on the poster. But that’s what I was doing. There is some more plot that I don’t care to remember that all culminates in the death of Dev Patel’s character who is then uploaded to another robot so now Chappie has a bro. Yo-landi is also killed and the movie ends with her essence uploaded to a thumb drive and Chappie’s promise to bring mommy back in a new body. No, no, no. Blomkamp hung his movie on awful garbage people doing stupid shit and we’re supposed to want this person to be re-anmiated in robot form? Nope. I can’t recall a movie where I wanted everyone to die in a tire fire.
The one thing going for this dumpster fire is the CGI. Blomkamp’s FX work is the closest I’ve seen to being photo-realistic. That and his ability to film really fun action had me excited to see he’ll be handling the new Alien movie. Now I’m just scared. Yes, this review is harsh and filled with hyperbole, and as I’ve gotten older I actually tend to be a lot more forgiving of movies. But this is just a shame. Robots, near future societies in transition, AI, Sharlto Copely – these are all things that I like a lot. I should know better than to get my hopes up, but I can’t help it. Live by high expectations, die by them, too, I suppose.
1 shitty tattoo out of 5