Hugh Jackman in Chappie review
With his latest movie Chappie, South African director Neill Blomkamp officially enters The Wachowski Zone: His debut feature film was an impressive feat, and everything that has followed it is a flop mess. Chappie isn’t completely terrible—it’s not as off the rails as, say, Jupiter Ascending - it just isn’t particularly good. It doesn’t offer any new ideas or concepts about artificial intelligence, and it’s messy and convoluted with no clear point or narrative focus. It’s mildly entertaining in places, but overall it’s not good, though compared to some of the utter garbage I’ve seen recently, it’s on the least offensive end of the Not Good Spectrum.
Prepare yourself, for Chappie’s advertising is terrible and does not accurately represent the movie at all. For starters, despite his central presence in the trailer, Dev Patel is not the star of the movie. In fact, he’s not even the secondary lead. He’s like the fifth or sixth lead. So if you go in thinking that at least you’ll get to enjoy Patel, you will be disappointed. The leads of this movie are actually the South African rap duo Die Antwoord, Ninja and Yolandi (Watkin Tudor Jones and Yolandi Visser by birth), and they CANNOT ACT. At all. They are distractingly bad.
At this point, I’m secure in saying that Blomkamp is not an actor’s director. He has no interest—or maybe even ability—in controlling actors and making them do things on camera that aren’t completely terrible. He lets Visser deliver all her lines in the most grating, obnoxious, whispery baby voice, Patel sleepwalks through his scenes, Sigourney Weaver clearly flounders for lack of direction and ends up barking most of her lines like a bad R. Lee Ermey impression, Hugh Jackman’s best decision was his hilarious baby mullet, and though Ninja is actually interesting to watch, in a train wreck sort of way, he might not have been acting at all. There are rumors that he was really difficult on set, and the sh*t editing—which completely butchers the movie’s pacing, by the way—seems to be trying to mitigate his presence, which makes me think Blomkamp came to regret hiring Ninja, at least.
But the real problem is Chappie himself. Voiced by Sharlto Copley and saddled with ridiculous dialogue by Blomkamp and his wife, Terri Tatchell, Chappie is not as engaging as any recent example of AI in movies. His design is neat—I always appreciate when robots don’t look like people—but as a character Chappie is more Jar Jar Binks than WALL-E. The movie is set in Johannesburg in the near future where a robotized police force has been deployed to deal with an overwhelming crime problem. Deon (Patel), designer of the robo-police, steals a damaged unit and uploads his AI program to it, and thus Chappie is born. He’s presented as a child, innocent and imprinting, and then he’s left to be “raised” by a criminal gang that includes the cleverly named Ninja and Yolandi. Ninja proceeds to turn him into a f*cking moron, and then some action stuff happens because Vincent (Jackman) is a religious nut who doesn’t want there to be AI, or he wants to shut down Deon’s program because it made his own robo-police program redundant—no one has clear motivation in this movie.
Chappie wants to have something to say about crime, poverty, and economical oppression becoming literal oppression, but like Elysium, it doesn’t articulate any of these ideas well enough—or smartly enough—to make it worth watching. Blomkamp can shoot action, though, so the battle sequences are decent. But like the Wachowskis, Blomkamp suffers from, let’s call it “sci-fi syndrome”, in which he takes half-baked social commentary and throws it into a basic sci-fi plot, and expects us to be impressed. That worked once, for the Matrix, because the visual effects were literally revolutionary. But cool VFX are no longer enough to hook us, so all we’re left with are the half-baked ideas and barely-there plot. Chappie could be worse—or it could be deranged, like Jupiter Ascending—but it could have been a lot better, too. As is, it’s just a boring, messy movie about annoying people and their annoying robot friend.
Attached -Hugh Jackman on the set of Eddie The Eagle in Germany the other day.