Review: Chappie

8 10

PLOT: In a futuristic South Africa patrolled by police robots, one defective model is given human emotions by his creator (Dev Patel). Now known as Chappie (Sharlto Copley) the robot falls into the hands of a group of thugs who want to use him to help them pull off a violent heist, while the deranged engineer (Hugh Jackman) of a rival robot wants to use this outlaw model as a way to make his own machine king of the streets.

REVIEW: After DISTRICT 9, it seemed like all fandom was ready to anoint director Neill Blomkamp as the hot visionary director of our time. Yet, when his follow-up, ELYSIUM (a perfectly decent film in its own right) turned out to not be the all-out masterpiece audiences were expecting, the tide seemed to turn against him and sure enough, CHAPPIE is getting some pretty rough reviews by a lot of the same writers who pegged Blomkamp as a visionary just a few years ago.

While CHAPPIE is an imperfect film, it's far better than the early reviews may have you believe. Blomkamp still hasn't quite been able to capture the same sense of urgency as he did with DISTRICT 9, which brilliantly used a verité-style to tell an epic sci-fi tale. CHAPPIE is still more in-line with that than the ultra-ambitious ELYSIUM, but not quite as assured. Its chief strength is certainly Sharlto Copley who – through motion-capture and voice acting (and amazing CGI work by the VFX team) – has turned the robot star Chappie into an impossibly endearing character. In effect, he puts the heart back into Blomkamp's work, which ELYSIUM lacked as Copley played a snarling villain in it. He's far more effective as the hero.

The return to Blomkamp's native South Africa also gives this the same renegade (or rather international) feel that DISTRICT 9 had and whether you like this or not, it can't be denied that CHAPPIE is thoroughly Blomkamp's vision, making this one of the more uncompromising studio pics we're likely to get this year. CHAPPIE is certainly not movie making by committee, and Blomkamp's passion for the material is etched in every frame. While it has plenty of genre elements, including a propulsive score by Hans Zimmer (nearly on-par with the scores he writes for Christopher Nolan) and some major action sequences, the film is sensitive and even tender at times . Surprisingly, this is more SHORT CIRCUIT than ROBOCOP, albeit an ultra-violent R-rated version with an F-bomb dropping gangsta robot hero.

One of the more controversial aspects of the film is Blomkamp's use of Die Antwoord's Ninja and Yolandi Visser in two of the lead roles. Neither are really actors and it shows, but both have a distinct charisma that makes them effective. It's certain the parts have been tailored to them, although some of the meta-touches, like them using their own names, listening to their own hit records and even wearing their own band swag, don't quite work and distract from the film. Still, it's hard to imagine anyone else in their parts. Of the two, Yolandi Visser probably comes the closest to giving an actual performance, with her transition from gun-totting gangsta to concerned mother-figure being surprisingly affecting. She's actually quite sweet as her maternal instincts take over once she sees Chappie's innocence and inherent goodness. Ninja is more two-dimensional, and emotional scenes with him don't quite work, but when he's playing it ultra rough (which is most of the time) his chemistry with Chappie is solid, and Copley does an incredible mo-cap job imitating Ninja's distinct physical, gangta manner once Chappie starts to see him as a role model.

Surprisingly, the bigger names in the cast have relatively little to do. Dev Patel is the most prominent as Chappie's creator, and he's earnest and endearing (and toned way down as opposed to his performance in THE SECOND BEST MARIGOLD HOTEL – also opening this week). Hugh Jackman is more cartoonish as the mullet-wearing, snarling villain. If Blomkamp has one big failing, it's that his bad guys are never very interesting, and while Jackman is clearly trying to have fun, it's still a forgettable part. The same goes for Sigourney Weaver, who's wasted the same way Jodie Foster was in ELYSIUM (although the framed photos of dogs in her office are a cute touch).

CHAPPIE probably isn't going to capture the public's imagination the same way DISTRICT 9 did, but even if you felt let down by ELYSIUM (which, again, is likely better than you remember) CHAPPIE is absolutely worth seeing. It's the work of an insanely talented director, and while it's not perfect, even when it goes a little off-the-rails, it's never less than intriguing and always entertaining. At its best, CHAPPIE is riveting and even sweet. It's nice to see a sci-fi action flick with both eye candy and heart. The latter is too often overlooked these days.

Source: JoBlo.com



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