Neill Blomkamp may have hit it out of the park with his critically acclaimed directorial debut District 9 (2009), but his subsequent projects are struggling to live up to the hype. His third film Chappie is a dithering, preposterous slog, and the South African-Canadian director’s worst offering to date.
Co-written by Blomkamp and his wife Terri Tatchell, Chappie takes us to Johannesburg in the near future, where the deployment of the world’s first robotic police force has brought down the city’s crime rate. Developed by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who works for weapons manufacturer Tetravaal, the scouts are governed by artificial intelligence (AI), much to the disdain of rival weapons designer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), whose remotely-controlled Moose project is consequently sidelined and its funding reduced by company CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver).
Wilson, meanwhile, aspires to create high level AI, but just when he cracks the code of consciousness, he is kidnapped by a criminal gang, led by Ninja and Yolandi (portrayed by South African rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser). Desperate to steal money, they force the developer to hand over his latest creation, a stolen droid that is programmed with a new artificial intelligence that can mimic the human mind. The robot, which they plan to use in a heist, is subsequently named Chappie (Sharlto Copley) and begins to learn and develop its personality, as each character moulds the childlike creation in a different way with the ultimate hope of using it in their nefarious scheme.
A complete disregard for logic is exhibited at every turn. Random existential quandaries are haphazardly thrown in with no attempts to flesh out any of the themes before moving on to the next random thread. The story is so infuriatingly riddled with plot holes that it’s impossible to delve into any of the supposedly thought-provoking ideas that it touches upon (and then promptly dismisses without a satisfying examination).
The characters are inconsistent and the acting dire. Both Patel and his character are unbelievable. Weaver doesn’t have a significant role and it’s hard to figure out why she signed up for the film. Even the usually dependable Jackman is boring as the clichéd antagonist. In a strange casting choice, two of the main roles have been given to the members of rap group Die Antwoord, Ninja and Yo-Landi, whose acting skills are lacking and characters are nothing more than cartoonish caricatures of stereotypical gangsters.
Overall, Chappie simply isn’t a very compelling project, and the “gangsta” robot persona of its titular character is downright grating. The film shamelessly borrows elements from better sci-fi adventures and gets bogged down by its own jumble of ideas. Chappie’s plot is thin, the characters dull, the acting shoddy and its eventual outcome unconvincing.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 12th, 2015.
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