'Chappie' a mix of 'hodge-podge messiness'
Did you know? Neill Blomkamp's career continues to devolve as he follows the expensive mess that was Elysium with Chappie, a mish-mash of ideas from sci-fi films of the late 1980s and 1990s.
It begins with a mockumentary-style montage that's a straight rip from Blomkamp's District 9 and ends with a rip off of Chris Cunningham's seminal 1999 music video for Björk's All is Full of Love.
Die Antwoord have been smart in their use of videos and visual elements to blow up on the world stage but in this overlong, overambitious, overblown and ultimately disappointing film, their shortcomings rather than their strengths are evident.
The premise begins simply enough - in Johannesburg in the near future crime has been reduced by police droids invented by a young AI genius named Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). When one of these droids is stolen by Die Antwoord - who here play themselves not as rappers, but rather as gangsters - they, together with Wilson, become the droid Chappie's surrogate parents as he becomes the first robot in history with the ability to think and feel for himself.
Into this mix are added a rival psychotic engineer (played by Hugh Jackman sporting khaki shorts, his Aussie accent and a mullet), and a mad druglord with dreadlocks and an accent that's reminiscent of the one white people use to speak to their domestic workers (Brandon Auret). These all prove to be the ingredients in the hyper-violent, schmaltzy, silly recipe for disaster that the film can't avoid becoming.
Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja may be great in their music videos, but actors in a feature film they're not. Auret's character Hippo's accent very quickly loses whatever satirical point it might have and becomes offensive. The overarching speculative point about artificial intelligence is quickly lost in a series of violent and pointless set-pieces that cannot cover up the glaring holes in the plot. Johannesburg provides a backdrop to the action but really it could be anywhere as Blomkamp fails to exploit the city for any interesting purpose other than drawing a link between this film and District 9.
Chappie, voiced by Sharlto Copley, is quickly annoying, chattering around like a teenager on meth. There's no character in this film for us to care about enough to forgive the hodge-podge messiness of a weak story that can't decide whether it wants to be RoboCop, ET or Short Circuit.
What others say
A ball of contradiction. It takes the concept of 'Transcendence', crosses it with the storyline of 'RoboCop', and then delivers it, seemingly, to the target demographic of 'Short Circuit'. It is simultaneously dumb, hyperviolent and cutesy.
Michael O'Sullivan, The Washington Post
A derivative endeavour, with echoes of everything from Dr Frankenstein's creation to the Tin Man, featuring pretty dire acting.
Kenneth Turan, The Times
A brawny, inventive action romp that's as happy firing rockets at helicopters as it is contemplating the Cartesian model of mid-body dualism, which gives it a satisfying sweet-and-sour tang.
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
Blomkamp holds your attention with stories about characters banding together to emerge from a hell not of their own making.
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times