There are some good ideas at play in Chappie, the latest from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. The problem is many of those ideas are unabashedly lifted from other movies. There’s nothing seriously original in this strange and goofy story of a sentient robot that loves his drug dealer parents.
Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, star of Slumdog Millionaire, possibly the most overrated film of the new century) is sick of his cubicle job working for a company creating police robots in Australia. He wants to take things to the next level and create the world’s first “human” robot, a robot with a consciousness. So we get a bunch of sequences with him vigorously typing (aided by prominently placed Red Bull) only to be left with the screen saying “UNSUCCESSFUL.”
Eventually, the screen says “SUCCESSFUL” and the program to make an emotional robot has become reality. Against the wishes of his superior (Sigourney Weaver), Deon steals a damaged police robot with the intent of loading his program into the sucker and making it metal with feelings.
Right at the same time, some drug dealers kidnap Deon and discover his plans. They force him to upload the program into the damaged robot, and insist that he leave the robot with them for reasons involving a big heist. So while Deon is off doing whatever, Chappie the robot learns the ways of the street and starts speaking slang.
Chappie is voiced by Blomkamp mainstay Sharlto Copley, who also provides a decent motion-capture performance. Because Chappie is basically portrayed as a baby robot learning rapidly, Copley has to go with a very childlike performance. It’s endearing at times, but nothing he’s going to want on his resume reel.
Chappie’s drug dealer parents are Yolandi and Ninja, played by Yo-Landi Visser and, yep, some guy named Ninja. They teach Chappie in the ways of swearing and shooting things, and even get him to steal cars. Blomkamp’s screenplay seeks to give these characters redemptive qualities toward the film’s end, but fails to really pull off such a feat. They are scumbag drug dealers, after all.
If this sounds stupid, that’s because it mostly is, which is shocking considering it’s from the mind of the usually reliable Blomkamp. Yes, his Elysium starring a bald Matt Damon as a partial robot of sorts was a step down from the very good District 9, but it still had its merits. Chappie, on the other hand, is misguided flop from the start.
A year after we got a RoboCop remake, we get a film where police robots have the same voices and basically say the same things as Peter Weller’s original half-man, half-robot. There’s even a bigger robot called “The Moose” that is much like the ED-209 championed by Ronny Cox’s bad guy in the original. This time out, the villain is in the form of Hugh Jackman, Deon’s mullet-wearing coworker who wants The Moose to go into mass production. It’s the same damned plot! Somebody’s ass should get sued. And what were they thinking with that Jackman haircut?
While the movie most notably being ripped off is RoboCop, there are noticeable traces of I, Robot, Run Lola Run, WALL-E, Terminator, District 9, Elysium, E.T. and others. The film never takes off as its own entity, and feels like a hodgepodge of every robot ever made. Well, every robot movie ever made with perhaps 10 percent originality thrown in, and the original part is lame.
So now I’m concerned, because Blomkamp just got the green light from Fox to make Alien 5, possibly with Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn. Now that Chappie is dead on arrival, and shows proof that Blomkamp isn’t bowling strikes at the moment, is the Alien project in jeopardy?
If so, everybody run out and see this piece of shit so we get our Alien movie. Chappie needs a big return and, as film geeks, we must make sacrifices sometimes.