There are some good ideas at play in Chappie, the latest from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. Problem is, many of those ideas are unabashedly lifted from other movies. There’s nothing seriously original in this strange and goofy story of a sentient robot that loves his drug-dealer “parents.”
Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, star of Slumdog Millionaire, possibly the most overrated film of the new century) is sick of his cubicle job; he works for a company creating police robots in Australia. He wants to take things to the next level and create the world’s first “human” robot—a robot with a consciousness. So we get a bunch of sequences with him vigorously typing (aided by prominently placed Red Bull), only to be left with the monitor saying “UNSUCCESSFUL.”
Eventually, the screen says “SUCCESSFUL,” and the program to make an emotional robot has become reality. Against the wishes of his superior (Sigourney Weaver), Deon steals a damaged police robot with the intent of loading his program into the sucker.
However, some drug-dealers kidnap Deon and discover his plans. They force him to upload the program into the damaged robot, and insist that he leave the robot with them to help with a big heist. So while Deon is off doing whatever, Chappie the robot learns the ways of the street and starts speaking slang.
Chappie is voiced by Blomkamp mainstay Sharlto Copley, who also provides a decent motion-capture performance. Because Chappie is portrayed as a baby robot learning rapidly, Copley has to go with a very childlike performance. It’s endearing at times, but this is nothing he’d want on his résumé reel.
Chappie’s drug-dealer parents are Yolandi and Ninja, played by Yo-Landi Visser and … some guy named Ninja. They teach Chappie the ways of swearing and shooting things, and even get him to steal cars. The screenplay, by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, tries to give these characters redemptive qualities toward the film’s end, but fails. They are scumbag drug dealers, after all.
If this all sounds stupid, that’s because it mostly is—which is shocking, considering it’s from the mind of the usually reliable Blomkamp. His Elysium, starring a bald Matt Damon, was a step down from the very good District 9, but it still had its merits. Chappie, on the other hand, is misguided flop from the start.
A year after the RoboCop remake, we get a film in which police robots have similar voices and basically say the same things as Peter Weller’s original half-man, half-robot. There’s even a big robot called “The Moose” that is much like the ED-209 championed by Ronny Cox’s bad guy in the original. This time out, the villain is Hugh Jackman, playing Deon’s mullet-wearing co-worker who wants The Moose to go into mass production. It’s the same damn plot! Somebody’s ass should get sued. And what were they thinking when they gave Jackman that haircut?
While the movie is largely ripped off from RoboCop, there are also traces of I, Robot, as well as Run Lola Run, Wall-E, Terminator, District 9, Elysium, E.T. and others. It feels like a hodgepodge of every robot movie ever made.
I’m concerned, because Blomkamp just got the green light from Fox to make Alien 5, possibly with Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn. Now that Chappie is dead on arrival, could the Alien project be in jeopardy? If so, everybody needs to run out and see this piece of shit so we can get our Alien movie. As film geeks, we must make sacrifices sometimes.
Chappie is playing at theaters across the valley.