Neill Blomkamp burst into Hollywood fame with his film debut District 9, a film that was well-received by both critics and audiences alike; although I’m not a fan of it myself. Then he hit a sophomore slump with Elysium, it wasn’t a great movie but I enjoyed it more than District 9. For his newest outing, he went back to his hometown and made a smaller scale sci-fi action thriller. Unfortunately it’s one of worst movies I’ve seen this year so far.
Set in just a year from now, the city of Johannesburg is control by robotic police force known as Scouts. An opening that’s similar to District 9, a news TV crew is interviewing people at a company that build these robots. One of them is the designer of the Scouts, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), he’s a very smart engineer who wants to make these robots into more than just policing the streets. He wants to make them more human, after cracking codes on how this could be achieved; he pitched the idea to his boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). She didn’t think it would benefit the company’s interests and refused to finance it. We also get to know Wilson’s rival at the company, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman, sporting an awful mullet from the 80s). He’s been trying to get funding for his own robot project but Bradley wouldn’t give him the money because the Scouts are doing fine protecting the city. Later we see the Scouts in action; they got into a shootout with some thugs, two of them turned out to be the main human leads of the movie, South African rappers Ninja and Yolandi. The two thugs and one of their crew members Yankie (Jose Cantillo) were able to escape and we learned that they owe the city’s crime lord lots of money. They came up with a plan of kidnapping the Scouts’ designer Wilson and force him to “turn off” the robots so they can commit their crimes and pay back the crime lord Hippo (the very over acting Brandon Auret).
Wilson is still upset from the news that his boss won’t finance his new pitch to her, decided to steal one of the Scouts that was inline for decommissioned and take it home to build his more human robot. However on his way home, Ninja’s gang ambushed him. They saw the robot in his van and ordered him to build them a Scout that would help them commit crimes. Wilson agreed but warned them that this new robot is not like the others and it needs to learn things before it can function normally, it’s basically a child and they named it CHAPPIE. For most of the movie, we had to sit through excruciating scenes of Yolandi and Ninja teaching Chappie to become human and act like a thug, I’m not kidding you. The promos for this movie made it appear that it’s about Chappie becoming some sort of savior for the human race but that never happened in the movie.
I’ve never heard of rappers Ninja and Yolandi (Die Antwoord) and I assume they’re quite popular in South Africa and Europe. Now the only reason why Blomkamp decided to cast them as leads was maybe because he’s a big fan of them, that’s my assumption anyway. They cannot act and I cringed every time they’re on the screen teaching Chappie how to be human. Apparently we’re supposed to care about these thugs even though their plan is to commit crimes in order to pay off their debts. The rival between Wilson and Moore became a subplot and I just don’t care about any of these characters. Sigourney Weaver has now become that once-famous actress whom director will only use sparingly and she’s on the screen for maybe 5 minutes. The main star of course is Chappie, voiced by Sharley Copley and unfortunately he’s quite annoying. We’re supposed to care about his growth of becoming more human but I just didn’t care for any of that.
The script by Blomkamp and his wife Terri Tatchell was amateurish. They came up with some good ideas but threw all that away by focusing story on thugs teaching Chappie to be human and included too many clichés that we’ve seen many times before. There’s no doubt that Blomkamp knows how to shoot movies, his previous two pictures looked great and this one is no exception. It’s a good example of how good digitally-shot movie could look. But his storytelling skill is questionable, he tried to juggle so many things in this movie and they all just fell flat. I actually wanted to walk out halfway through but I didn’t because I knew there’s going to be a big action scene at the end. Well he delivered in that department, the climatic shootout was well-staged and very exciting but by then I didn’t care about any of the characters and just wanted the movie to end. The only other positive thing I can say about the movie was Hans Zimmer’s pulse-pounding score. As usual his music shines, especially in action scenes. But scores alone can’t save a crappy movie.
I didn’t have any expectations going into this movie because I don’t think Blomkamp is as talented as Hollywood thinks he is and here’s a proof of it. The movie feels like it’s a film student project that he somehow conned a big studio to finance it. It’s a trifecta of bad acting, writing and directing.
Have you seen Chappie? Well, what did you think?