Review: CHAPPIE, Thug Life Doesn't Pay Off
Neill Blomkamp is on everyone's radar now that he's been chosen to direct the new Alien movie. His latest effort, Chappie, might fuel the raging debate, as it shows a weird mixture of sci-fi within the gangsta universe of rap band Die Antwoord.
Chappie revolves around Deon (Dev Patel), a developer who's unlocked the key to give robots their own consciousness. Things go bad when he's kidnapped by Ninja, Yo-Landi and America, three petty thieves who need to commit a big heist to reimburse their debts. In the meantime, Deon's jealous co-worker Vincent (Hugh Jackman) is looking at every possibility to convince their boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) to let him use his massive, deadly robot as the new police force.
Despite having many aesthetic similarities with RoboCop, Chappie ends up being more similar to A.I. rather than to Paul Verhoeven's film. Blomkamp surely does tackle the socio-political issues of having robots as key members of the police force, but he takes a greater interest in Chappie's evolving consciousness as well as in the humans' inherent vices. The film spends a certain amount of time dealing with one's free will and to prove that the clothes don't (always) make the man - the exception to the film's statement being Jackman's character, with his obtrusive mullet and redneck attitude.
Ever since District 9, Blomkamp has shown a tendency to depict the conflicts in his script in a very simplistic way. There's a scene in Chappie that perfectly encapsulates this, when the thugs are trying to come up with a quick way to make tons of money. As they're talking about the robotic police force, Yo-Landi suddenly formulates a thought out loud: the police are machines; machines can be turned off by a remote; the police robots can be deactivated with such a device.
This rather childish syllogism around which Chappie builds most of its premise is very representative of Blomkamp's writing style. Although the depiction of social inequalities in Elysium was one of the most negative aspects of the film, it remained naive enough to be left out and not to interfere with the kind of hardboiled entertainment the movie was. Sadly, there's a qualitative loss in Chappie that eventually transforms the director's former naivety into proper silliness, which tends to ruin the film's qualities.
This problem mostly comes from Die Antwoord's band members, Yo-Landi Vi$$er and Ninja, whose stage characters are teleported straight into the science fictional concept of the film. As funny as it could have looked on paper, the idea of contrasting the South African rap band's gangsta universe with the seriousness of Chappie's premise is not convincing at all. The character's pinky, flashy paraphernalia mixed with the scenes showing Ninja training Chappie to be a proper low-life gangster (from the alleged quick-draw to the shooting attitude) prove to be moments of pure ridicule and are funny on rare occasions only (the Grand Theft Auto montage).
These silly moments constantly counterbalance the better elements that the film has to offer. Unsurprisingly, Weta delivers an amazing design which perfectly fits the universe created by Blomkamp. The latter is always at ease in the making of action scenes, which are disappointingly numbered at two. There is one impressive sequence at the very beginning that is reminiscent of the director's greatest work on both District 9 and Elysium, while the second one appears at the end and shows gory bits as well as plenty of slow motion.
One cannot avoid feeling haggard after watching Chappie: it has great potential but sacrifices it for the sake of silly ideas, so much so that the result looks almost like an extended video clip of Die Antwoord rather than a Blomkamp film. Although the uneven performances -- Blomkamp doesn't seem to know how to direct his female idols -- and the scrappy script are forgivable, it's hard to overlook all the inappropriate gangstiness deployed here.
- Neill Blomkamp
- Neill Blomkamp
- Terri Tatchell
- Sharlto Copley
- Dev Patel
- Yo-Landi Visser