Following his rather visionary debut ‘District 9’, director Neil Blomkamp seemed poised to be the next great director in the science fiction field. When follow-up outing ‘Elysium’ failed to ignite the masses in a similar fashion, the tide slowly started to turn on Blomkamp and all eyes were fixed on his third go-around behind the camera, and now that ‘Chappie’ has arrived, the microscope fixated on the director is positively invasive to the most negative degree.
The film itself details a not-so-futuristic South Africa where police officers have been replaced by specifically programmed robots, all designed with the objective of obstructing justice. The creator of these machines (Dev Patel) has plans to expand their potential to possibly inducing human emotion, something his boss (a snarling, but barely used, Sigourney Weaver) isn’t keen on, and when he manages to get his hands on a defective model, Chappie is born. Having to adapt to the world much like a new born infant, albeit with more highly advanced skills, Chappie (voiced by Sharlto Copley, who also supplied the motion-capture work) falls in with the wrong crowd – a trio of thugs intent on using him to pull off a dangerous heist – and subsequently has to learn what’s right and what’s wrong in the harshest of realities.
Though films like ‘Robocop’ and ‘Short Circuit’ have toyed with a similar concept, ‘Chappie’, though not original, can at least be considered distinct as Blomkamp’s stamp is very much all over the film, with its gritty un-Hollywood feel (in terms of looks) and South African setting. However in giving the film the look he so specifically wants, Blomkamp has also hurt the project with his odd choice of casting two members of South African rave/hip-hop group Die Antwoord in prominent roles, both of whom prove their inadequacy as actors. Whatever the reasoning behind their casting, which also sees them wear their own brand of clothing throughout and having their music heavily featured, it leaves little for the legitimate actors on board; Patel (‘Slumdog Millionaire’) leaves a minimal impression as Chappie’s creator, Hugh Jackman is cartoonish as the mullet-sporting villain, and Weaver is sidelined to nothing more than a glorified cameo.
I’m sure there’s an audience for ‘Chappie’, one who will get behind the robotic scamp and all his adventures but I was personally expecting a more coherent product; one that is either a dark, violent feature on his uprising against a violent society, or a quirky comedy on a robot’s blossoming into manhood – this movie attempts to mix both to muddled results.