More in-depth film festival coverage than any other website!
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

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

Latest Reviews

Profile by Jay Seaver

Scythian, The by Jay Seaver

Aragne: Sign of Vermillion by Jay Seaver

Cold Steel by Jack Sommersby

Microhabitat by Jay Seaver

Last Child by Jay Seaver

Nightmare Cinema by Jay Seaver

Hotel Transylvania 3 by alejandroariera

Tremble All You Want by Jay Seaver

Skyscraper by Peter Sobczynski

subscribe to this feed

[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brett Gallman

"Fauxbocop II"
2 stars

“Chappie” is a lot of things: another “original” sci-fi film cobbled together from scraps of superior predecessors, another socially conscious parable about Important Things from Neill Blomkamp, and another technically sound but hollow exercise in exploring the human condition. Most unfortunately, it’s further evidence that its director is mostly a great pre-viz artist who struggles with storytelling. This is a classic case of sending a scientist to do a poet’s job.

Which is a disappointing diagnosis, of course. After making such an impressive debut with “District 9,” Blomkamp was anointed a savior meant to rescue the geek world from the morass of manufactured franchises and impersonal blockbusters. It was such an invigorating and wonderfully pitched tale that you left wondering how the same guy could be responsible for a film as lifeless and dumb as “Chappie.”

Set in the near future in Blomkamp’s native Johannesburg, it imagines a world where the city has been ravaged by crime and decay. With the human police proving to be ineffective, it enlists a patrol of cybernetic replacements created by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). Not content to merely be known as the guy who crafted a militarized police fleet, Wilson has been pushing to experiment with truly artificial, sentient intelligence. Having been rebuffed by his superior (Sigourney Weaver, now the head of The Company rather than its victim), he toils away at home until he finally cracks the code.

His discovery intersects with the exploits of a group of gangsters who kidnap him in the hopes that Wilson will be able to disable the police androids long enough for them to pull off a heist. Instead, he can only provide the husk of a decommissioned unit uploaded with his experimental AI parameters, a combination that births Chappie, an infantile android that begins to think and feel, just like a real boy.

I suppose “Chappie” is something of a fairy tale, a sort of reworking of the Pinocchio story, only the title character here is stuck with the knuckleheads from Die Antwoord (Ninja & Yolandi Visser, ostensibly playing themselves) as parents. For a decent stretch, it operates on that small scale, with Chappie’s creator butting heads with his surrogates over how the robot should be raised. Naturally, Ninja immediately wants to shove a handgun into his barely sentient hands in order to train him to be a gangster to aid in their heist. Wilson and Yolandi would rather be more gentle and nurturing.

There are worse (or at least less interesting) stories to tell, but the problem is that Blomkamp only knows how to tell it with the heaviest, most obvious set of hands. “Chappie” is the sort of film where the guy who creates AI is inspired by a motivational poster featuring cats. Computer files are named “consciousness.dat.” Chappie, who is a reject, has a giant sticker that says “reject” fixed to his head. When the disagreement about raising Chappie arises, it plays out with one father figure literally telling him to nurture his creativity, while the other chastises him for painting and playing with dolls. If “Chappie” were anymore on the nose, it’d leave an ACME logo branded on our faces.

It might as well do that, anyway. Blomkamp’s ability to craft a grounded, believable world with seamless CGI characters is only matched by his befuddling decision to populate it with Looney Tunes characters. Chappie himself might be the most realistic and believable one here: not only is he a technical marvel that effortlessly interacts with the actors surrounding him, but he’s also the only character that makes a lick of sense (well, for the most part—there is a climactic moment where he bludgeons the shit out of a guy while screaming “no violence”).

I especially refuse to believe that Ninja and Yolandi are actual people, much less the heightened versions of themselves they’re playing here. Concerns about their cultural appropriation aside, casting these two is an odd, almost daring choice, if only because you don’t often see people like this headlining a film with this kind of profile. They don’t prove to be especially good actors, but they are intriguing, almost alien presences decked out in gaudy clothing and scribbled with ink that camouflages them in the graffiti-covered ruins they call home. Ninja’s bug-eyes constantly threaten to eject right out of his face, while Yolandi’s sing-song voice is perfect for this grungy fairy tale.

Blomkamp’s decision to have these two play total scumbags is baffling, though. Ninja and Yolandi aren’t common street hoods driven to criminal acts out of desperation: they’re straight up gangsters knee-deep in an underworld crawling with likeminded degenerates. They’re introduced as cop-killers in the middle of a robbery; by the end of the film, you’re expected to see them as goons with hearts of gold. It’s a tough sell, no matter how forcefully Blomkamp leans on dramatic slow motion sequences and cloying musical cues.

If the thought of taking Die Antwoord seriously doesn’t sound tone-deaf or ridiculous enough, let’s consider the case of Hugh Jackman in the role of a disgruntled ex-soldier with an absurd mullet. Sort of the Dick Jones to Wilson’s Bob Morton, he pushes his own idea to assist the local police force: a giant, unwieldy ED-209 knockoff that would be piloted by a human. Somehow, this isn’t preferable to the walking automatons Wilson creates, and so he sits and stews about it in his cubicle.

In a movie full of cartoon characters, Jackman is Wile E. Coyote: he peers around corners with binoculars to spy on Chappie’s development, he glowers from across the room at Wilson at every opportunity, and he’s completely oblivious when he’s pitching anti-aircraft features to a police force. Imagine “Robocop” stripped of its satire, or just recall last year’s ill-fated reboot.

Predictably, Jackman’s breakdown leads an already overstuffed movie to an overblown climax. In keeping with Blomkamp’s simplistic, broadly sketched worldview, Johannesburg descends into chaos as soon as its robot fleet is unexpectedly shut down. He seems to have little affection for his old hometown, which is consistently presented as the sort of hellhole where teenagers will assault and light a poor, unsuspecting robot on fire. This and other visually-striking sequences are engaging enough in a vacuum, but Blomkamp’s shoddy framework can’t bear the weight. “Chappie” isn’t a coherent story—it’s a collection of pitch reels, complete with wildly varying tones and character motivations from once scene to the next.

Watching the final product unfold is confounding, particularly because it seems to be so cocksure about its own importance. Like Ninja himself, “Chappie” struts along, completely unaware of how fucking dumb it looks. Between its subplots and thematic posturing, it seems to be about so much, yet says so little. Certainly, it says nothing that hasn’t already been better articulated by the films guiding Blomkamp’s heavy hand. For all its discussions about consciousness and humanity, “Chappie” seems disinterested in these subjects, as it treats souls like re-spawn points in a video game.

It’s almost fitting and prophetic that Blomkamp’s anointing was at the hands of Peter Jackson, another fallen idol who has spent the past five years playing with toys with the pretense of making movies. Further telling is Blomkamp’s plan to work alongside Ridley Scott for the next “Alien” installment, a gig that just might double as a glimpse into the mirror: like Scott, Blomkamp is a gifted technical director with a keen eye and a spotty track record when it comes to graceful and emotional storytelling. All three of these men may be headed towards complicated legacies, though it’s admittedly too early to damn Blomkamp.

Maybe he recovers from the dregs of “Chappie” and “Elysium,” but it’s fair to wonder if “District 9” was a fluke rather than the herald of a great talent. Once destined to deliver genre filmmaking from prefabricated junk, Blomkamp has resorted to churning out just that. While he might be cannibalizing from the scrapheap of his own short films and infusing them with oddball choices (like it or not, “Chappie” is basically a $50 million Die Antwoord music video, and that’s nuts), it’s still junk all the same.

Not that anyone wants to conjure ghosts of more genre disappointments, but remember the climax of “Revenge of the Sith,” where Obi-Wan expressed his disappointment as Anakin Skywalker was consumed by lava? That’s where I am with Blomkamp right now. He was the Chosen One. Let’s hope he doesn’t end up as a cautionary tale.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 03/07/15 18:37:33
[printer] printer-friendly format  

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
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  06-Mar-2015 (R)
  DVD: 16-Jun-2015


  DVD: 16-Jun-2015

Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About Australia's Largest Movie Review Database.
Privacy Policy | HBS Inc. | |   

All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast