Do androids dream of electric sheep? Do celebrities make bad actors? Does a dog lick its own balls? Yes, and so does Chappie.
Chappie is a film written and directed by Neill Blomkamp. It stars Sharlto Copley as Chappie, Dev Patel as Deon Wilson, Chappie’s creator, and Hugh Jackman as an angry, steroid ridden, ridiculously terrible antagonist who doesn’t deserve a name. Also, Die Antwoord, but more of that later.
The movie takes place in Johannesburg, where crime has been rampant. With the help of new police Scout Droids, however, the government has been able to establish order again. Deon Wilson, brilliant young programmer is the designer of these scouts. And while happy with his success, he is more interested in creating AI that can feel and think for itself. An AI that can develop its own emotions and own personality. Enter Chappie.
On the other side of town, we have Die Antwoord, a small group of heist criminals. They get in a bit of trouble with the local gangs, and need something short of a miracle to get out of a massive loan that’s hanging over their heads. How can they hope to steal enough money in time to pay their way out of death? Enter Chappie.
For those of you unfamiliar with Die Antwoord, they are a South African hip hop duo known for their explicit lyrics and music videos. They have a pretty crazy sound and image. Apparently the director was a big fan, so he decided they had to be in his movie. But to act a certain role, or to do a small cameo? No. They are more or less the main characters and spotlight of this film when Chappie isn’t yammering away in his awesome South African accent. They don’t even act, they just play themselves. And while they can be highly entertaining at times, there’s no hiding the fact that they are plain ridiculous. They can’t act, and their personas don’t really have a place in this movie.
To the movie’s credit, it asks a lot of interesting questions about AI. It brings up the notion that personality, human or otherwise, may one day be boiled down to a highly complex mathematical algorithm. It asks some good questions about what makes us truly human, truly ourselves and not someone else. It makes a very good case for sentient machines being more than just that. In that regard, the movie truly does deserve a thumbs up.
Also, I would be doing a great disservice to Sharlto Copley if I didn’t mention how good his performance was in this. Any scene we have Chappie in, it’s hard to imagine that somebody actually acted out his performance. That he wasn’t just merely created like that, the perfect, endearing, little robot. His mannerisms, gestures and voice are absolutely spot on. Any scene he’s in, he absolutely steals the screen for the better. He could actually make me forget about the Die Antwoord parts of the movie and make me feel like I’m watching a good film again. However, inevitably, the Die Antwoord parts kept coming in, louder, and dumber in sequence.
Much like District 9, Blomkamp’s last successful film, you have a very good idea and concept which is executed very poorly. The narrative simply doesn’t carry its own weight. The writing is outright laughable in many parts. Any scene with Hugh Jackman is absolutely cringe worthy. Don’t get me wrong, Hugh Jackman is a GREAT actor. But in this film, everything he has to work with is a train wreck. Even the tone is all over the place. You go from Disney/Spielberg “aww” moments, to slapstick comedy, to people being graphically disembodied, to heart-wrenching drama… It really feels all over the place. The movie’s tone and direction are definitely not unified and defined.
If you got a Friday night to kill and there’s nothing better, this movie might be worth your dollar. It should give you a few good laughs, make you ponder a question or two. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, you might actually enjoy yourself. But don’t look for a proper film here.
Sorry, ol’ Chap.