More of the same from Blomkamp. So in the near future in Johannesburg, the police force has taken notes from RoboCop, and have decided that machines are the way to go for law enforcement. When the mastermind behind this invention (Dev Patel) decides to basically give one of his robots a soul, he is almost immediately hijacked by gangsters, who have a very different plan for this robot’s upbringing. I don’t know if you remember this, but Neill Blomkamp was very close to being the next “it” director back in 2009. Everybody was blown away by the groundbreaking District 9, which got him a somewhat surprising Best Picture nomination; not that it’s a bad film, it’s just not the type of film that typically gets recognized by the Academy. This led to much salivation among the sci-fi community, anticipating what was to come next. For better or worse, it was followed up with Elysium, which was generously given a mixed reception. With Chappie, he has shown that he is kind of a one-trick pony, which isn’t terrible, but it is disappointing.
Speaking on the positive side, Chappie does feature some pretty seamless special effects, namely Chappie himself. Everything is smooth, skillfully rendered, and you always believe what you’re looking at, but the problem with Blomkamp has never been the effects. The issue is that you’ve got characters that aren’t given much to do, other than to play caricatures and make the effects look cool. Sigourney Weaver is more or less playing the same exact role that Jodie Foster played in Elysium, and it is pretty clear that direction of female actresses is not Blomkamp’s strong suit. That said, his direction of male actors leaves a bit to be desired as well, like with rapper Ninja as one of the featured gangsters; he’s cartoonish and over-the-top, which is par for the course for this project. The only thing that Blomkamp truly excels at is the visual effects, and that’s never enough for a film to stand on its own.
If there’s one thing that this year’s film lineup has taught me, it’s that A.I. is not to be trusted.
Another thing that holds Chappie back from being a good film is the science behind it all: it is pretty weak if you stop to think about it longer than two seconds. The conclusion hinges on it, and when you finally get there, you do not buy what they are selling. It wants you to have this emotional connection, and that’s where the film falls flat on its face. Chappie (the robot) gets on your nerves, and after spending the entirety of the film with him, you’re just ready to be done with it so he will stop talking. Any comedic element feels off-putting and out of place, and everything about this feels like it could have been saved with better writing. This is watchable, but for anybody that had an ounce of positive expectations, prepare to be let down.
Chappie (2015) **1/2
– Critic for Hire