Chappie

Columbia Pictures
Rated R for violence, language and brief nudity.
Running time: 120 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.

Do you know who Die Antwoord are? I didn’t before walking into “Chappie.” Not really. In retrospect, I’d vaguely heard of the South African rave-rap group because a fellow school mom mentioned to me about a year ago that she was seeing them in concert, and that they were terrible, but they were also a blast live. (Here’s a link to their best-known song, a catchy little ditty called “I Fink U Freeky,” which has over 61 million YouTube views as of this writing. You’re welcome.)

As you can see, Die Antwoord are a singular artistic force. They’re also the real stars of “Chappie” — or at least, two of the three members, Ninja and Yo-Landi, are. They are not actors, nor are they truly “acting” per se, but rather playing a version of themselves in all their tatted, grungy glory. Director Neill Blomkamp, who made a splash in 2009 with his bad-ass sci-fi debut “District 9,” said he listened to a lot of Die Antwoord while working on his 2013 follow-up, the disappointing “Elysium.” So, voila! Ninja and Yo-Landi are the stars of “Chappie.” Not Dev Patel. Not Hugh Jackman. Not even Hugh Jackman’s mullet.

Ninja and Yo-Landi are the ones who propel the narrative — although the script, which Blomkamp co-wrote with his wife, Terri Tatchell, doesn’t go in any directions you haven’t been many times before. “Chappie” is essentially a mash-up of “RoboCop,” “Short Circuit” and “Transcendence.” It raises all the questions about artificial intelligence and the nebulous relationship between man and machine which we’ve pondered in superior films from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “WarGames” to “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” to “Her.” But it provides no novel answers, no fresh insight. While the visual effects are spectacularly seamless, they’re in the service of a movie which devolves from vaguely funny to just-plain silly to numbingly gory.

In the beginning, it’s the near future: 2016, to be exact. Things have gone to hell pretty quickly, it appears from fake news footage, but especially in Blomkamp’s hometown of Johannesburg. The government has put a robot police force in place to keep the peace, the brainchild of mild-mannered engineer Deon Wilson (Patel). His boss at the private defense firm is the icily ambitious American Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver); his office rival is ex-military, the devious Vincent Moore, played by Jackman as a collection of bad Australian stereotypes (mullet, khaki shorts, hiking boots, weaponry on his hip).

But Deon has dreams of using the technology to create something greater, more sophisticated. After many sleepless nights, he finally devises a method of artificial intelligence, which he wants to place inside one of these robot police officers to see how much better they can work when they think and feel for themselves. Naturally, his project doesn’t go nearly as well as planned when the test robot falls into the criminal hands of Ninja, Yo-Landi and their sidekick, Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo), who only want to use the creation to pull off a big heist.

The thing with Ninja and Yo-Landi is, it’s difficult to tell whether we’re supposed to take them seriously or think they’re ridiculous. Ninja is an overconfident, trash-talking buffoon, but he’s also an expert shot and he can be legitimately dangerous. Yo-Landi seems vapid and soulless, but functioning as an ersatz mother to the robot — whom she names Chappie — brings out a softer and warmer side which makes her strangely relatable. While they’re initially off-putting, they admittedly become fascinating; but a little of them goes a long way, especially in an overlong film.

Chappie himself, meanwhile, is annoying from start to finish. Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley portrays the robot through motion capture and voice work. While the physicality of the performance is impressive as he evolves from skittish child to swaggering gangster, the consistently hyperactive, one-note way Copley delivers his dialogue remains grating throughout. Unfortunately, comparisons to Jar Jar Binks are all too apt.

The fight for Chappie’s survival becomes a fight for the survival of the entire city, when Vincent sabotages the robot police squad in order to unleash his own behemoth, military-inspired crime-fighting force. Blomkamp essentially abandons the intellectual and moral themes he’d presented earlier in favor of sheer brute strength. “Chappie” gets overloaded with noisy, repetitive carnage as it reaches its climax, then shifts jarringly into empty uplift.

The movie itself may not stay with you for very long after it’s over, but Die Antwoord’s music does — for better or worse.

20 Comments on “Chappie

  1.  by  Michael N

    “funny to just-plain silly to numbingly gory.”

    At what point does it become “numbingly gory”? There is one scene of any substantial gore involved for 3 seconds and the next goriest is a variety of minor gun shot wounds and one non-gory beating of Hugh Jackman. Based on your opinion, District 9 was a bloodbath and The Shining was also “numbingly gory”

    •  by  Eric

      Define over exaggeration though she does have a point. It was almost vanilla (aside from the consistent swearing), up until the point that we see the moose in action. The sudden and almost random introduction to someone being ripped in half was completely unnecessary to the plot – it was gore for the sake of gore.

      •  by  jaybo

        That’s all Blomkamp does in my opinion

  2.  by  Andrew jojola

    This article is just an example of Christies poor ability to analyze break down the components of what she’s is seeing. To start chappie is not mocap animated Sharlto Copley is on set and acts the way any actor would and a team of animators animate chappie frame by frame over Copley’s performance all by hand. It doesn’t surprise me that she would misrepresent information to make the movie seem bad when any one with half a brain would tell you it’s great. The problem with the negatively portrayed articles not limited to chappie is that hard headed individuals assume if they don’t like a movie then it must be bad when in actuality they just don’t like it. Their a lot of articles saying chappie is bad and most of those articles are based on “it was confusing” it was too gory” die antwood are not actors”. All this shows is that those who dislike the movie are to slow to understand it or dislike a specific character with in it which is a poor basis to judge a movie. A wise friend of mine once told me” why do you get mad at games for not being realistic? You don’t play Mario kart and say HEY SHELLS DONT SHOOT OUT OF GOKARTS IN REAL LIFE! You play the game to play the game wether or not you like it is up to you.” Your judgment is based in ignorance and your view is entirely to contrived. By the way their Is no such thing as “this movie is a mash up” while movies can be similar this movie is no mash up. For one theirs only one so one robo cop for two transcendence is about nano technology more than anything and lastly I haven’t even seen short circuit but based on your inability to evaluate movies for their self worth I’m not going to trust your judgment on this in the least bit.Rule one of writing anything site check your facts. I hope this isn’t your day job because your terrible at it.

    •  by  Poo

      Actually the plot is the plot of robo cop and short circuit 2…even down to the criminals using him for their dirty work…lol

    •  by  Matt51

      Actually this was a pretty sound review, I’m not at all sure what yr venoms all about mate. There was a lot more she could have mentioned in the way of bad points… And I’d say it was a complete mash-up. I love good Scifi, I also really like Die Antwoord; this should have been amazing, and it was almost resoundingly terrible. If you’re not worried about Aliens by now… Actually scrub that you’ll probably love it!

  3.  by  JozieLee

    JarJar Binks? Egads, that’s enough to turn me off.

  4.  by  Donny

    This is the most ignorant review I have ever read. A disgrace!

  5.  by  Tronia

    How is this person listed as a critic on rottentomatoes.com? Wow. Can anyone with a blog get listed there?

    •  by  Trevor

      She wrote for the Associated Press for a decade and hosted a show with Roger Ebert. I think shes qualified…

  6.  by  Sanqtiago

    Wow. This is a pretty bad review. Mashup? Are you talking intertextuality? Because you make it sound is a bad thing. Also, are you looking to find “answers” to problems like AI in movies? Good Luck. Perhaps, I don’t think “solving”, or revealing the secrets of the human conscious was at the center of Chappie; rather than ontological I believe the quid of the movie is more ethical. But who am I kidding, the movie is so damn good it could be about “being machine” too.

  7.  by  robthom

    I appreciate Blomkamps desire to be a writer/director auteur, but his writing is at nowhere near the level of his visual talents. And its probably holding him back.

    Carpenter and Chronenberg were great writers themselves early in their careers, but weren’t afraid to use a script by others to focus on directing.

  8.  by  David Molina

    Hey i’m French so don’t take this seriously.

    Don’t blame the writer for not seeing the Art behind the movie.

    Not everyone is sensitive to Art.

    Anyway maybe in the future people will understand this movie for what it really is.

    Peace.

  9.  by  Ivan Martinez Olvera

    Dear Christy whatever

    I just seen chappie and outside the cinema i just ask myself “will any asshole think that chappie Is just about the “robot-human relation?” Damn wrong, this is not about that, you need to see a little faar than just that, you don’t even see the context, is about some concepts, and questions, deepers than the movies you enounce, is not about robots, is about real kids in crime, their innocence, the masculine figure stoling them from the mother and a lot of situations around it, it also gets a little bit existencialism, in the relation “creation-creator”…. those things and more, but I will keep thinking before being an asshole… of course, this is still a sci fi movie, but higher a lot higher than robocop, this is a movie that I won’t regret to pay for (scuse my english)

  10.  by  Chris G

    I’m not mad at your review. One problem “Chappie like jar jar Binks!” Hell no! Chappie is way better and has his own personality. Chappie hands down was a good movie. Ok similarities to other scifi’s. So what? It’s funny and has a lot of action. Die antwoord was an awesome choice. Teens and young adults will love this move. It’s fooly cooly, but gangsta!

    I will say it did come off at times like a long music video & marketing movie for die antwoord… SO! Chappie protected his family.

  11.  by  Kevin

    Did you bother to go see the movie? You stated that “it provides no novel answers, no fresh insight,” but do not prove your point. Were you unable to see the accurate family archetypes that the film presented? Could you not see the ideas of a new frame of dealing with the creator to creation? There was much more to this movies appetite than entertaining movie goers and pissing off stuffy critics. I highly recommend you you go back and watch the film before you write a review!

  12.  by  Dean

    The song that propped Die Antwoord to stardom, their first ‘youtube hit’ was ‘Enter the Ninja’ and not ‘I think your freaky’. Its the song the movie played out with…

  13.  by  CF

    I think the review is pretty spot-on. It took me about an hour and a half to decide if we were supposed to take any of it seriously (due to the ridiculous factor) but, at 2 hours, I just stopped caring. Visually it was impressive, but story-wise I found myself waiting and praying for Chappie’s battery to die out. Or, at the very least, his voice box.

  14.  by  Cre-Ator

    The thing aboit this movie is that it has an amazing story and thongs we need time to ponder over. Yeah,, screenplay and cinematography was quirky, but its the weird story that attracts you. The only downside i see is the mismathing caste, who can’t seem to support each other. Was saddened to see one o my favorites Jackman and the brilliant Dev beside Die Antwoord XD