Monday, March 9, 2015

Chappie



CHAPPIE: Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, directed by Neill Blomkamp (120 min.)

Chappie is a mixture of just about every other "robot" movie around, existing somewhere between Robocop and Short Circuit. It exists between those films in theory, but resides below both of them in quality. Come to think of it, I'd put Robocop 2 and Short Circuit 2 above Chappie, a mean-spirited, cynical mess of tone that is so aggressively hateful it created anxiety in me at times. Maybe Neill Bomkamp had a good movie somewhere in the early stages of development, but somewhere along the way things fell apart in just about every conceivable way.

Taking place in Blomkamp's native South Africa, the film revolves around a crime-addled Johannesburg in need of stronger police presence. A young tech nerd named Deon creates a robotic police force that is successful, but Deon wants the robots to do more. He wants them to have their own intelligence, to be self aware, because Deon has never seen any movies about artificial intelligence so he has no idea what could ever go wrong. Deon is a technical wizard, but as a character, he is an idiot. Just like everyone in this film.

When Deon's request to use an out-of-commission robot to experiment with his self-aware program is shot down by the corporations' boss, played by Sigourney Weaver (as she continues her string of thankless, spare roles), Deon steals the robot. But he is then kidnapped by Ninja and Yolandi, despicable criminals who are also pure idiots. Ninja and Deon are looking for... wait for it... one last score to settle their debts with another deplorable South African character. Their plan is to steal Deon's "remote control" to the robot police force which will help them... I'm getting winded.

Anyway, the robot is implanted with the new program at Ninja and Yolandi's hideout and has the mind of a child, though he learns, adapts, and understands at a breakneck pace. Oh, and his battery is fused, so he has five days to learn everything and help these criminals with their heist. But Deon wants him to be a nice robot. He gets named Chappie, and then Ninja's ingenious plan to toughen up Chappie is to dump him off on his own where he is beaten and tortured in a cynical scene. He could easily be destroyed and the plan would fail, right? That would be my thought before abandoning the robot, but what do I know.

Then, after he is beaten with rocks and set on fire (after it is established he is basically a child, so, put those images together and see how you feel) Chappie is picked up and tortured in a follow up scene of senseless brutality by Vincent Moore.

Oh, wait! There's Vincent Moore, idiot number forty in this film, played by Hugh Jackman with a mullet and a Steve Irwin costume (because he's Australian, get it?). Vincent has his own version of a police robot, a giant machine that operates by reading human minds. But his program has failed over and over, despite his devious attempts to succeed and his endless peering at Deon over cubicle walls while he holds his rugby ball (he's Australian, get it?). I bet his program didn't work because the machine is the size of an office building and it takes an airplane hangar to house and operate a single unit. Also, you would think when all the robots are shut down and chaos ensues in the streets that he might be the prime suspect, but that would require a character with a brain.

Chappie is an absolute mess in every way imaginable. I hated this movie. As evidenced by this manic plot description, villains and bad guys and characters fly at us with reckless abandon, and the only one that isn't just a deplorable human in one way or another is the robot. All of these characters do things that are purely inexplicable, careless, and seemingly filled with vile human indecency. And they act in unbelievably idiotic ways.

Consider this scene: Vincent desperately needs a usb key from Deon, so in order to try and get it he smashes Deon's head into his desk and threatens him with a gun. In the office. Full of coworkers. But, hey he was just kidding, no hard feelings, right? Seriously, the entire robot police force is sabotaged and nobody even thinks to look at the guy who threatened the creator of the robots with a firearm in front of an office full of people.

The final showdown has all of these characters interacting in an assault on the senses that is such an overwhelming barrage of noise and nonsense that it's hard to focus on any one thing, and impossible to care. The screenplay bounces from one tone to the next, and lacks any of the satirical notes that might make it actually work. A sharp satirical angle say, like, Robocop, would have been a smart play. Instead, it's paint-by-numbers dialogue and nauseating predictability.

Now, Chappie himself was a cool robot, with some funny moments, but in a movie that is sometimes needlessly violent, aggressively cynical, and lacking any real identity, the humor is easily forgotten. Just as this film should be, immediately.

F