Review: “CHAPPiE” has the depth of a wooden puppet

 

Underneath “CHAPPiE” there’s a truly smart movie about the nature of existence seen through the LED eyes of a conscious robot. But apparently, Neill Blomkamp had no intention of making that movie, instead replacing it with a rushed, aimless, embarrassing mess slushed along by one-dimensional characters. So yeah, it’s pretty awful.

Coming off the smash-hit “District 9” and the not-great-but-pretty-good “Elysium,” both of which blended modern social issues with terrific sci-fi action, Blomkamp has seems to have lost any touch he had.

The setting, which goes back to Johannesburg, South Africa from “District 9,” is supposed to be the center of a mass, pre-apocalyptic devolving society, which now needs the force of robotic cops. But we are simply told this. Aside from a heist at the beginning of the film, there is no exposition of this supposed wasteland. Blomkamp rushes into the action like Michael Bay on ‘roids with little to no care about the world around the characters. In fact, it’s those same characters that get the biggest of shafts.

Take for instance the lead character Deon Wilson, the creator of these mini robo-cops played by Dev Patel. He’s fidgety and wears glasses like a proper nerd. But beyond that, he does nothing but run back and forth between the broken-down home of some gangbangers and his corporate office which looks more like the set of “The Office” than a weapons conglomerate. He types and types away and creates artificial intelligence in a RedBull fueled evening. Mmmm, gotta love that RedBull, kids.

Then there’s Hugh Jackman’s Ranger Rick-looking villain Vincent Moore who, adorned in short-shorts and knee-high socks, also runs around typing things. He stomps around like a jealous child when Deon’s robots get all the glory, but it may be because he has the worst haircut since Tom Hanks in “The Da Vinci Code.”

Both of these men run around in what should be an ultra-secure compound basically taking anything they want regardless of the danger they possess with absolutely no resistance. It reminded me of an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” when the gang is trapped in a house and eventually say, “I’m beginning to feel this family has absolutely no awareness of their surroundings and that we can basically just walk out”.

But their actions pale in comparison to the worst aspect of any film this year: The over-exposed presence of rap group Die Antwoord. For the sake of word-count I cannot go into the pure rage that accompanied every scene they are in (which is about 90% of the movie), so I will give the bullet points; They use their stage names, adopt the same clothing and personalities, replace all of the non-instrumental score with their own, and wear their own merchandise with their faces and band name on them (are these people supposed to be music stars or lowly gangbangers?!). Were these people funding the movie? I haven’t seen such an unsubtle form of product placement since “Transformers 4,” and here it actually tends to ruin the foundation of the film. One can go as far to just call this the “Die Antwoord Movie” and I wouldn’t bat an eye.

The only bright spot is Sharlto Copey as robot Chappie. His innocence and questioning of existence are what keep this movie afloat and slightly resemble a presence of story structure and character development. But sadly he spends most of the time dealing with the combined idiocy of his human counterparts, basically making this less social statement and more loud action movie that happens to have a robot in it.

Nobody does anything of value that contributes to anything resembling a cohesive story. Chappie alternates between doing good and bad things with no moral lesson accompanying any of his actions. It seems Blomkamp had a great, simple idea but no idea how to develop it. Simple would’ve been the way to go but this, this is a mess.

This could’ve been a simple drama with Chappie dead center as a robot absorbing the world around him. But that wouldn’t have furthered Blomkamp’s career as a mainstream director. So he got down in the muck and made a half-assed, aimless actioner that hides under the guise of its lead robot’s intelligence when really it’s about as smart as its boorish human leads. Which would’ve been less of a chore if not for the shameless self-promotion of its rap-star leads and the constant plugging of Sony’s own PS4 and laptops. Really? You can transfer robot A.I. consciousness into another body using a ratty Vaio laptop? I know this is a movie, but really? Really, “Chappie?”

GRADE: D

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