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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chappie 2015 * * 1/2 Stars

ChappieDirector: Neill Blomkamp
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sharlto Copley

"He's a happy chappie." So says the character Yolandi and in one instant, a funky robot from Neill Blomkamp's latest release, gets his name. Playing itself out as RoboCop meets Short Circuit (the gangster version), 2015's Chappie really finds its director in his element here. Blomkamp's vision of sci-fi consists of slow motion shots featuring his caricatures leaping, plenty of artificial intelligence red herrings, and a grubby, draggy look that in turn, gives an audience member the feeling of a slumming, dystopian punk rock society. This is a guy who tends to make the same vehicle again and again with gadgetry masked as art exhibit. The only difference is that Chappie as opposed to his two other feature films (Elysium and District 9), tends to have more of a heart in certain scenes. I may be rambling but is he the right choice to take over the Alien franchise? Based on a stubbornly, headstrong style, probably not. Is he wholly original minus the occasional borrowing from other futuristic, action/thriller fare? Sure, I'll give you that one.

Chappie takes place in a militarized, corrupt civilization where regular cops are called "pigs" and robotic cops are called "dogs". It's violent in a hail of gunfire sort of way but bloodless for almost half of its tempestuous two hours (there's less heads exploding this time around). The story brings us back to Blomkamp's old digs being the dusty slums of Johannesburg, South Africa. Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is an inventor of robots. These robots are used in harnessing the crime wave via Johannesburg's many decaying neighborhoods. Deon's boss at Tetravaal (the company he works at) is Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). She's happy with Deon's work but prevents him from developing a new concept, robots that mimic the human mind. Deon defies her and instead implants a forbidding program into one of the bots who was destroyed in the line of duty. The plot workings then become more compound. Deon gets robbed by hoodlums who want to use his new found creation (Chappie, a humanistic android whose learning process initially is that of a five year old) to pull off a major heist. They owe twenty million dollars to the type of nasty criminal you don't want to tick off. And it doesn't help that a disgruntled employee at the other end of Tetravaal's ideals (Hugh Jackman as weapons expert Vincent Moore), wants to destroy Chappie in order to make way for his own robotic menace, MOOSE.

Now I liked almost all the characters in Chappie and the acting ranged from standard to haphazard to flat out excellent. Sharlto Copley who's a Blomkamp mainstay, gets the mannerisms of Chappie just right. He doesn't put on an actual robot suit (it's more complicated than that) but his voice is perfect as are his jerky, protracted movements. In the case of Sigourney Weaver, well her performance was probably the low point. It seemed like it was totally phoned in. She will always be a legend in my book but her CEO (Michelle Bradley) should have been more important than was advertised. Ripley doesn't register so much as a blimp. As for Hugh Jackman, well he's an interesting choice to play the heavy. He does an adequate job channeling a jealous, sniveling rat in the Tetravaal corporation. Oh and he rocks the mullet (as well as multiple sets of khaki pants). Finally, there's Dev Patel who completely shines in his role. He brings sympathy and believability to Deon Wilson, Chappie's quote unquote "maker". And in truth, he's been a busy boy lately (his other film The Second Marigold Hotel is currently in theaters as well).

Out of the box casting choices aside, the ending to Chappie may be one of two reservations I have for not recommending it. This a complex affair but it concludes with the notion that humans are better off living forever as robots. With their consciences transferred from dying bodies to connected hunks of metal, it feels like Blomkamp wanted to tack something on without knowing that it might reek of desperation. I mean, the problem with science fiction movies these days is that every contingent has been done already. I don't fault him entirely though because the journey to get to Chappie's weary conclusion is almost worth it. The other reservation I have involves the undramatic rap music that accompanies the flick's second act and the closing credits. It feels sort of muddled as does Chappie's uneven attempts at humor (the teaching of Chappie by uncompromising thugs on how to talk like a bad ass and putting gold chains around his neck are prime examples).

In conclusion, during the film's opening half hour, the main protagonist proclaims, "this is a new kind of life form, a new step in evolution". I don't share the same sentiment with Neill Blomkamp's latest (filmwise) but it feels like something he's always wanted to make, a pet project if you will. Result: two and a half stars.

Of note: the workplace environment at the weapons manufacturer Tetravaal, is comprised of cubicles like in 1999's Office Space. I snickered a bit. I mean you have Patel and Jackman's characters sitting at their desks near a bunch of other people who apparently don't do any work for the company. They're just there next to computers, like props if you will. I figured Patel and Jackman would be out in the testing field or I guess, the war rooms (which for most of the time, they aren't). Oh and if you take in a viewing of Chappie, get ready to be introduced to a new word. That word would be f**kmother (said over and over again).

Written by Jesse Burleson

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