Saturday, June 20, 2015

2015 Rewind- 'Chappie' review

Before I wrap up the first half of 2015, I'm going back to take a look at some of the titles that I missed earlier this year. Let's call it my 2015 Rewind series. The first movie that I went to check out was Neill Blomkamp's Chappie, which hit theaters in March this year and just debuted on Blu-Ray/On Demand. When Chappie hit theaters, critics pretty much destroyed it, giving it a mere 41 on Metacritic and 31% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences didn't have much of a reaction either and the film left no cultural footprint, leaving many to question the status of Blomkamp's career after his second straight disappointment. But is the film really as bad as many seem to think? No, but it's definitely not that good. Bogged down by a plot that runs in spurts, performances that aren't very compelling, and an incredibly inconsistent tone, Chappie is certainly a misfire in many aspects. I enjoyed some of Blomkamp's action beats, but I simply didn't believe what the film was going for.

In the near future, South Africa is policed by a group of robots who keep the streets safe and have sent the crime rate plummeting. The robot scout's creator, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) loves the machines, but wants to build something more. He wants a machine that can think, feel and become sentient. Basically, Deon wants to create an A.I. and that's his biggest passion in life. Meanwhile, Ninja and Yolandi (played by Ninja and Yo-landi Visser, the two members of South African punk group Die Antwoord), need money to pay off their boss. Ninja comes up with a weird plan to kidnap Deon and force him to shut down the scouts, so that they can go rob a place.

They kidnap Deon, but he tells them that he simply can't do that. So instead, he gives them Chappie, the robot that he was going to use to test his new A.I. against the wishes of his boss, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, completely wasted by this script). Chappie begins to talk, and do very creative things, but all Ninja wants is for Chappie to be a gangster. To help them with heists and stuff. A lot of stuff goes down with Chappie, Ninja, Yolandi, and their friend Amerika, but the main plot revolves around Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), the vengeful weapons designer who really doesn't like Deon or the scouts. He sends the city into mayhem in order to promote his technology, and it just gets more convoluted from there.

I had no idea just how convoluted the plot of Chappie was until I wrote that synopsis. Man, this is a movie that has just way too much going on. And not much of it is very interesting. Blomkamp films the action scenes with a certain pizzazz and flair that makes them interesting, but at the same time, the film shifts in tone all the time, causing the audience to be left in a jarring situation. One minute the film is a rollicking action thriller, and the next, it's a sentimental story about a boy becoming a man. Blomkamp never commits to the idea and everything gets so bizarrely sloppy that nothing in the movie really works. And the ending is magnificently awful, settling for a concept that feels haphazardly handled and not thought out very well. Chappie is not a good film because of this messiness, but it is an interesting miss, and one that continues to show promise for Blomkamp's career.

Blomkamp is, first and foremost, a visual filmmaker. And visually, Chappie is a very interesting film. It continues the rich South African vibe of Blomkamp's previous efforts, with that griminess that has always pervaded through his films. Ninja and Yolandi are incredibly annoying characters, but their warehouse is a sight to behold, accompanied by a lot of weird graffiti and some other cool visual tics. It's just too bad that Blomkamp couldn't carry that visual richness over and create a tight narrative to go with his landscapes.

The performances are all pretty one note, with a lot of great actors doing merely decent work. However, I was unconvinced by Sharlto Copley's performance as Chappie. It felt like a weird dynamic between Chappie and the actors on screen, and that was a problem for me. Patel is pretty good, yet Sigourney Weaver has next to nothing to do. Jackman is solid, but his sideplot felt forced and uninteresting. And Ninja and Yolandi are horrible, just annoying additions to an otherwise mediocre cast.

Chappie's fatal flaw is that it's overlong, overstuffed and tonally jumbled. The tone ranges from serious to sentimental to silly to borderline ludicrous. It never settles down and it never works for the plot or the themes of the film. Also, at two hours long, Chappie feels much longer and that's because of the straight-up atrocious pacing. This movie moves in spurts and it just never catches fire. Too many subplots also cause problems and as much as I enjoyed aspects of this film, it just feels like too much of a mess.

Chappie has some good action scenes, a few tender moments that work and a visual style that is always compelling. But there's simply too much going on, and it's crystal clear that Blomkamp didn't know what kind of film he wanted to make. He still has a promise as a filmmaker and Chappie shows flashes of growth, but the more I think about it, the less sense it makes. However, it does have a sense of style and that is something that can't be said about most sci-fi missteps. But still, this is a bizarre entry into Blomkamp's young portfolio. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                                 (6/10)

Image Credits: Wired, Reddit

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