Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie came and went in March, pretty fast. Most critics were negative about it and it poisoned the well for viewers. Most stayed away. Now, Chappie has been released on DVD and On Demand this week and is it as bad as people say it was?
While, this is no classic and it has more than its share of problems, Chappie was unfairly maligned by critics. The film takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa and as it opens roving robotic police units have suppressed a great deal of the criminal element that has wrought terror on the innocent people of Johannesburg. Deon (Dev Patel) is the key inventor for a company that creates the robots, but now he has been able to perfect and AI in one of the robots they name Chappie. With the voice of Sharlto Copley, Chappie has the innocence of child with the matching sense of wonder a child has. Copley actually acted in the film with a special suit that he wore so they could digitally add the Chappie robot via computer. Copley is tremendously effective. His performance has depth, humor and sadness. He brings Chappie to life.
Of course, to match the ‘good guy’ programmer, is the ‘bad guy’ programmer, Vincent Moore, played with militaristic menace by Hugh Jackman. Some have said he is sporting a mullet kind of hair cut. I always thought mullets were long in the back. I don’t think it is a mullet as much as just a bad hair cut. Either way, it works for Jackman’s character. Moore has a much larger robot (ironically, looks like ED 209 from the first Robocop film), that is packed with tons of firepower, but is clumsy looking so it sits in mothballs at the plant. Moore relishes the day his creation can show what it can do. Sigourney Weaver is Michelle Brady and she is the boss and keeps Moore at bay, despite his constant prodding to use HIS creation and dump Deon and his creation. Her role is small but she does a good job with what she is given to do.
Which brings me to Ninja and Yo-Landi. They make up the rap/hip hop duo of Die Antwood, a South African group that Blomkamp is apparently a big fan of. Ninja (whose real name is Watkin Tudor Jones) and Yo-Landi Visser use their real stage names and are a couple of low level criminals in the local gang. They are joined by a gent who is called Amerika played by Jose Pablo Cantillo (he has worked with Blomkamp in Elysium, another Blomkamp film unfairly trashed by critics). A lot of people have really castigated Blomkamp and his decision to use Ninja and Yo-Landi as his leads for Chappie. While they are not on the list for best acting honors in this galaxy, they do exactly what their roles require them to do, and Ninja actually shows some great emotion in a couple of scenes. They would not have been my first choice to play these roles, they do what they are supposed to do. Just about everybody in Chappie is connected to Blomkamp is some form or fashion from previous films.
Blomkamp and his wife and co-screenwriter, Terry Tatchell have written a decent script tackling humanity and the fear of death, be it man, woman and machine. Chappie learns quickly that everything and everyone will die eventually and he sets his sights on finding a way to cheat death. Meanwhile, Moore has his own nefarious plans to create a need for his ED209 looking robot he refers to as the Moose.
Chappie is a bit goofy, but therein lies its charm. I enjoyed watching the robot, Chappie interact with the humans. I enjoyed watching his growth and his duality from childlike to ferocious warrior. Copley gives a multi-faceted performance. In short, he shines. I also LOVED Chappie’s score by Hans Zimmer, Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynski. It pulsates with electronics and percussion that range from ambient to rock. I loved every minute of this score and it is worth purchasing from Amazon Digital.
Chappie has its flaws to be sure. It is uneven, kind of sputters in spots and is somewhat predictable but its light touches of humor coupled with some great visual flair for the action makes Chappie a fun time. Will this appeal to everyone? No. But Chappie deserves a chance to be seen and enjoyed. You won’t be talking about it forever, but certain films have a different lifespan and Chappie will hopefully weather the negative naysayers.
Chappie-*** out of 5
Chappie – Rated R for language and violence
Chappie – Run Time is 120 minutes