Chappie Theatrical Review

Input, input, input.

Humans break what they create. It is instinct to corrupt and manipulate, so says Chappie.

Of course, Chappie says a lot of things. This is the most scattered ideology of the Johannesburg Neill Blomkamp trilogy which began with the essential District 9 and has now crumpled into a ball with this – at times – contemptible sci-fi lark.

Partly, Chappie borrows the whimsy of the 1980s Short Circuit. This is not a comparison. Chappie lifts dramatic and comedic scenes wholesale. Sadly, Chappie does not have a romantic dance number with Ally Sheedy because Chappie is a Gangsta, capital G. Gold chains, spray painted tats. He becomes a walking ghetto.

This robot is an impressive creation otherwise, same as the aliens in District 9. Maybe too same-y. That doesn’t matter. More to the point, Chappie turns illicit and dark. Blomkamp has a weird itch for comedy, often executed with sadistic violence. This is no different. Bodies are pierced by bullets in slow motion, grenades rain from the sky, and people are split in two.

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Chappie does not happen in a nice place. One year from now, 2016, Johannesburg has become a country of rampant murder and a privatized corporation has the fix: robot cops. And Sony PlayStation 4s. Despite the substandard human condition, there are a remarkable number of high dollar Sony products involved. Must be how all of this was done in a year.

In this sits a parable about the rising police state. So, Robocop then? Chappie does not invite such obvious examples; it becomes these examples, to extremes, and often. Even its imagery, with bow-legged upright killing machines fencing bullets with the man-sized (and supposedly sympathetic) AI are entirely Robocop – ED-209 would be welcomed here, not out of place.

Ambiguity is a gross miscalculation which sinks a wildly cut together action finale, requiring caricatures – not characters – to even function.

Try as it may, Chappie descends ever downward. This is not the subversive story of aliens as District 9 was. Dev Patel tries to save the mangled material by playing Chappie’s creator before his voice is drowned out by Ninja and Yo-Landi who… play themselves? The names of this South African rap duo, Die Antwoord, are unchanged. It’s surreal, as is much of the film.

Die Antwoord end up in custody of self-aware ‘bot as the feature slips into a nearly unconscious state of indecipherable accents, some subtitled, some not. Chappie takes on their dialect and mannerisms, growing from his infantile, confused state into an underground car jacker. This is what becomes of the film’s intended hero.

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Ultimately, Chappie is confusing and confused. Central protagonists shift sides until the entire feature is swallowed by a moral gray area. Ambiguity is a gross miscalculation which sinks a wildly cut together action finale, requiring caricatures – not characters – to even function. Bullets and explosions are not a covering of this film’s incredible number of problems, although they try to be.

Broad as it is, Blomkamp’s motivation is a movie about artificial intelligence and the preservation of consciousness. Interesting, but not enough as to work in context of this outlandish array of neon pastel colors, blood, product placement, and hyper stylized crime. Somewhere in there is a lost religious subtext too, both in the execution of beliefs and our ability to play technological god.

If Chappie is speaking to its audience, it is through a language no one can understand.

Movie ★★☆☆☆