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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.52%
Worth A Look: 33.33%
Average: 14.29%
Pretty Bad38.1%
Total Crap: 4.76%

2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Clever hiding under crazy hiding under safe."
4 stars

When descriptions of "Chappie" (both the film and the character) started coming out a couple years ago, it sounded like Neill Blomkamp was making a high-concept comedy, making the earnest and heroic tone of the previews confusing and potentially disappointing. There are enough uninspired moments to cause concern, but there's enough anarchic madness to it to make up for that and then some.

It pairs a future where the Johannesburg police department is greatly augmented by autonomous robotic "scouts", although their creator Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) has, in his off-hours, moved on to building what he believes is a true artificial intelligence. When his boss at Tetravaal, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), refuses to allow him to use company resources to test it, he swipes a scout scheduled for demolition to use as a test bed, only to be kidnapped himself by some not-so-bright punks (Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo) who think he's got a remote control that can turn the cops off while they perform a heist that will clear all their debts. That's the environment in which Wilson's AI awakens; it's soon calling itself "Chappie" (voice of Sharlto Copley) and rapidly incorporating a very different set of influences than its maker intended.

There's also a rival designer at Tetravaal played by Hugh Jackman, and he tends to feel like something jammed in because the studio wanted a more digestible plot and to introduce one element needed later on. His project - the bulky, human-operated "Moose" - seems like a step back from the scouts, and also makes the plot hinge on the idea that urban police departments would see it (or anything) as overkill. Blomkamp could not have foreseen the Ferguson situation, exactly, when making his movie a year ago in South Africa, but the here are moments when the movie veers close enough to the topic of the militarization of police forces that sharper satire seems required.

Then again, that's not really what the movie is about, but a way to get Chappie built and to serve up a finale that is more than just a heist. In between, Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell embrace the absurdity of the "sentient and impressionable robot learns about being human from small-time hoods" premise, but don't ever wink at the audience, which leads to a lot of comedy that nevertheless makes the characters feel appealingly genuine despite how broadly they're sketched. "Ninja" and Yo-Landi Visser, playing namesake characters who likely cross the line from being based on their personae in hip-hop group Die Antwoord to actually being those people in the movie's world, come off as practically comic-book characters, but it manages to work, especially with Jose Pablo Cantillo playing off them as a short of straight man and both Sharlto Copley and Dev Patel countering with different levels of innocent optimism. Patel probably gives the most complete performance, but together they add up to an entertaining ensemble.

They keep things bouncy enough that it can be easy to dismiss what's going on between the warring layers of weird comedy and reheated sci-fi tropes. Granted, there's danger in looking at this movie too closely, as the plot can often turn on stupid and/or unbelievable things (including some last act silliness that mimics District 9 enough to make one wonder how much range Blomkamp has as a storyteller), but while the audience is laughing at the comedy of Chappie's development and how various groups want to exploit or end it, what the filmmakers stage is quite clever. Chappie learns quick, in ways that surprise the humans around him and which jumble being infant, toddler and young adult, and after a while, viewers might be surprised at how he's made the transition from prop to the film's main character, much the way babies go from dependent creatures to fully-formed people without an obvious tipping point. It's not clear whether Copley just did voice work or motion capture, or if Chappie was occasionally just an augmented guy in a costume, but it's an impressive job of bringing him to life.

Speaking of bringing things to life, Deon is also a refreshingly unique take on the Victor Frankenstein archetype, and not just because Patel plays him in a way that sells ambition without a lot of ego. Deon never refers to himself as "father" even though he often seems the male counterpart to Yo-Landi's "mummy" - he is "maker" from the start, and by the time one realizes that he has casually tossed out commandments, Chappie is struggling to figure out how to reconcile these goats with the situation on the ground. As crazy and seemingly contradictory as the last act gets, there's something about it that speaks to how humanity struggles to deal with its need for a soul despite the decreasing number of places it can hide.

Blomkamp and Tatchell may have overstuffed their script and tried to keep it from bursting with weak stitches, but the good news is that Blomkamp is still a very strong director. I half suspect that he thrives on having to run fast enough to outrun the plot collapsing behind him (which may explain Elysium - it just wasn't crazy enough for him to keep the momentum going), and he does a fair job of that here: Even when the movie is slowing down, it still moves pretty fast, and if the action isn't quite as great as one might hope - particularly, when the Moose is finally brought out, it's not quite the horrific monster it needs to be - it's still impressively bloody and ruthless; Blomkamp does not care about a PG-13.

That enthusiasm carries "Chappie" a lot further than it really has any right to go, and it won't do so for some in the audience. Blomkamp's tendency to be crazy and serious at the same time can make eyes roll, and while I think that this may actually contain the strongest work of his three movies so far, it's also the most variable and ready to go off the rails at any moment.

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originally posted: 03/08/15 03:44:36
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User Comments

9/27/15 mr.mike Decent cable watch runs a bit too long. 3 stars
7/19/15 Langano Nothing special. 3 stars
6/04/15 Meep Quite boring and uninteresting, a slight effort from Blomk after better Ely+Dis 2 stars
4/26/15 Terror Excellent film 5 stars
3/29/15 Man Out Six Bucks Nice pretense without the pretentiousness 4 stars
3/24/15 the truth stay the Fuck away from ALIEN, Neil! 1 stars
3/18/15 Bob Dog Illogical screenplay doesn't derail this hilarious and touching satire! 5 stars
3/11/15 Joe Strange, entertaining and emotionally engaging. 3 stars
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  06-Mar-2015 (R)
  DVD: 16-Jun-2015


  DVD: 16-Jun-2015

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