Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Chappie

A sci-fi misfire from Neill Blomkamp.

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Chappie
Columbia Pictures

South African director Neill Blomkamp is an ace action man with an unfortunate need to enlighten us about social issues. His first feature, 2009's District 9, did this in a clever way, echoing the horrors of apartheid by showing us a populace of alien creatures stranded in Johannesburg and confined to squalid townships by their contemptuous human overlords. District 9 was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and allowed Blomkamp to go Hollywood in a big way. His next film, the twerpy Elysium, tackled the hot-button issue of healthcare and didn't make back its big budget in this country (although it cleaned up overseas).

Now we have Chappie, a movie with even deeper thoughts on its mind, none of them new. What does it mean to be human? the picture asks. And if God is so great, why must we die? Also, why do film scripts always have to make sense? Why shouldn't non-actor pop stars be given a shot at lead roles?  And why don't we see more rubber chickens on the big screen? Blomkamp remains expert at blending CGI characters into real-world environments, and the action scenes are once again first-rate. But it's still a very silly movie.

Once again we're in the director's native Johannesburg, in a future time not so far from our own that fashion holdouts don't still sport mullets. An executive named Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, in a nothing role) presides over a company called Tetra Vaal Robotics, whose weaponized robots have taken over municipal police duties with great success—the crime rate has never been lower. But now a Tetra Vaal engineer named Deon (Dev Patel) has made an AI breakthrough that could create a more peaceable breed of robots that are actually sentient—that have a soul. They might in fact be capable of, oh, writing poetry, for example.

Bradley, a bottom-line capitalist, sees no need for this sort of robot. But she's also leery of giving free rein to another employee, a violent ex-soldier named Vincent (Hugh Jackman), who's built a huge battle 'bot (or possibly just rented it from the first RoboCop movie) capable of wreaking state-of-the-art destruction.

Deon is kidnapped by a trio of scummy criminals led by Ninja and Yolandi (uninventive names for characters played by Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of the South African electro-rap group Die Antwoord, whose merchandising logos feature throughout). In their dismal headquarters, they compel Deon to build his nice-guy robot for use in their own nefarious endeavors. When this mechanical entity springs to life (his first word out of the box is "Whoa!"), Yolandi and Ninja take on the roles of good angel and bad angel. Yolandi names the titanium creature Chappie (a mo-cap performance by Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley). She tells him to call her "Mommy," and before long is reading him sweet bedtime stories. Ninja, on the other hand, wants to toughen Chappie up, and soon has him draped in old-school bling and deploying knives, nunchuks, and flying shuriken. Deon, for his part, teaches Chappie how to paint (urging him not to let the gangsters "ruin your creativity") and also regales him with the aforementioned rubber chicken.

A perhaps unnecessary complication here is an even scummier gang that, with their tats and leathers and eccentric hairstyles, are clearly awol from a Mad Max movie. (Oddly, their muscle-bound leader speaks in subtitles, even though his English seemed clear enough to me.) These yobbos' chief functions are to grunt and glower and act as targets for the robot police who soon come helicoptering in with guns blazing.

Blomkamp wrote the script for this movie with his wife, Terri Tatchell, also his collaborator on District 9. Like that movie, this one has a cluttered wasteland look; unlike that film, though, Chappie seems at least one rewrite short of adding up. After Ninja and Yolandi have kidnapped Deon, he asks them to let him return to Tetra Vaal for a bit—and they say sure. In another scene we see Vincent spying on Deon through a pair of binoculars—even though he seems to be only about a hundred yards away.  

Then there are the actors. Visser projects considerable warmth as a tough chick feeling the first stirrings of maternal concern, but a little of Ninja's frothing menace goes a long way. And Jackman is wasted as a character who's called upon to do virtually nothing besides rant and snarl. The central problem, however, is Chappie himself. Unlike Star Wars' personable C-3PO, this latter-day 'bot is a pain, twitching and leaping and yammering away non-stop. Even the similarly annoying Jar Jar Binks might well tell him to cool it.

NEXT: Friday A/V Club: Woody Woodpecker Resists Wartime Rationing, Fights the Police

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  1. The list of things I would rather do than go to see this movie is long, perhaps infinitely long.

    Does not look like there are many movies worth seeing coming out this summer.

  2. Possibly not as dire as you fear. Just on the blockbuster front: Avengers: Age of Ulktron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Ant-Man, MI5, Terminator: Genisys…

    1. all of those look shit as well. a bunch of sequels and C list comic book garbage

  3. If you want a filmic experience that asks the question “what does it mean to be human?” You could do a lot worse than the Ghost In The Shell franchise. The two theatrical films are more alleghorical, but the TV series “Stand Alone Complex” and its sequels are real Science Fiction; they posit reasonable technologial advances and ask “what will these do to us?”.

    They are also great slam-bang action, BTW.

    1. My favorite “what does it mean to be human?” is still Bladerunner – the original version narrated by Harrison Ford, not the “director’s cut” without narration and the alternate ending.

      1. the original version narrated by Harrison Ford …

        … needs to be taken out behind the woodshed and shot.

        1. It is a film noir. The voiceover makes it complete.

      2. Are “Bladerunner” and “Blade Runner” the same movie? I get confused. Same with “Madmax” and “Mad Max.”

        Yes, I’m a dick.

    2. I’m going to watch this for all the reasons you stated.

      And also because the fem-warriors of GamerGate seem to late to have touched it *if* you know what I mean.

      1. too late*

      2. Motoko Kusanagi is basically the most badass fist-sized pack of brain cells ever. And she gives zero fucks.

  4. “Why shouldn’t non-actor pop stars be given a shot at lead roles?”

    I wouldn’t describe them as non-actors, exactly.

    One might argue their primary medium is film.

    They certainly score their own shorts (better than anyone in the business), but they’ve also put out 15 minute shorts sans music.

    They’ve put out more than one short without music, actually, and their music videos can feature long stretches of acting.

    NSFW

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcXNPI-IPPM

    Not sure I’d describe them as “pop stars” either. Not in this country, anyway.

    Don’t think they’ve ever had a single in the Billboard 100.

    1. Well they are in their country, and a kickass live. Which I guess adds to your point about them being performers and not just popstars.

    2. I wouldn’t describe them as non-actors, exactly.

      From the commercial appearances I’ve seen of Yolandi, I might be inclined to call them anti-film actors.

  5. From what you describe, this sounds like a pretty good idea horribly executed. A movie posing questions about what it means to be human probably shouldn’t have a central character that sounds like it was targeted to 10-year-olds.

    1. A movie posing questions about what it means to be human probably shouldn’t have a central character that sounds like it was targeted to 10-year-olds.

      Plus this has already been done: Short Circuit. Which was pretty awesome… when I was 10.

      1. Beat me to it, when I read this: When this mechanical entity springs to life (his first word out of the box is “Whoa!”) — first thing I thought was “Number 5 is alive!” “No disassemble!” … and Ally Sheedy’s “software” (the last time she ever looked attractive).

      2. Plus this has already been done: Short Circuit. Which was pretty awesome… when I was 10.

        I saw Earth2echo recently and felt compelled to show my kids ‘Batteries Not Included’, I’ll probably do similar with Chappi and Johnny 5.

  6. I liked District 9 overall, but his villains were so over the top, so detached and wantonly cruel, that they were hard to take seriously.

    You really started to see the club he was beating you over the head with after about 30 minutes in and you tire of it quickly. Subtlety is not a Blomkamp trademark.

    1. Well, Apartheid was sort of over the top, detached and wantonly cruel. Perhaps not quite in the exaggerated way of District 9.

      1. Well, I that would make sense if the villains in District 9 were actually about apartheid (i.e. a government bureaucracy suppressing the prawns due to say, their fast breeding habits ‘polluting’ South Africa) rather than your standard evil multinational corporation that’s in it for weapons technology.

        1. I could accept the corporate villain (or convince myself to, anyway) because it was pretty “military industrial complex”. A company that wants to partner with or act as a government is not the sort of market entity that I approve of.

          He clearly had a different message in mind, but it was entertaining and interesting enough. Not any great thing, but better than many action movies. The part that actually bothered me the most was how it started off as a fake documentary, but quickly got into scenarios where that just didn’t work anymore.

          1. But it’s not the corporate stuff that I’m concerned about, it’s that it’s a movie apparently about ‘apartheid’ when its really not, it’s a movie about a corporation wanting weapons technology. If it was a corporation hired by the state to control the prawn population or something it’d actually be about apartheid. Instead, District 9 simply uses the imagery and vague concepts of apartheid as a backdrop for villains more focused on other goals. It’s detached and wantonly cruel, but not because of apartheid the detachment and wantonly cruelty is purely for gaining weapons technology.

            1. I guess I just wasn’t looking for any deep commentary on apartheid, so I didn’t care.

              There was still the confinement of the aliens to District 9. I don’t recall that having any purpose in getting the weapon technology. I can’t recall all the details.

              1. That’s the thing, the movie starts off strong in regards to apartheid themes (i.e. the early documentary bits) but starts to fall apart once the more central plot takes over. By the end of the movie it’s just handwaved off as the prawns getting moved to a new camp. I actually like District 9, especially the first part, but all the movie’s shortcomings can be directly traced to Blomkamp’s need to work in his other social and political commentary outside of the apartheid backdrop. It’s one of the reasons I think Elysium was so poor, that movie focused pretty much entirely on Blomkamp shoving a very weak political message in your face. Blomkamp’s at his best when he’s not lecturing but world-building.

                1. I expect him to fuck up the next Alien film in similar fashion. Which is why I’ll be going nowhere near it.

            2. And I think you can comment on Apartheid-like situations without actually having all of the exact elements that Apartheid had.

        2. Fickin’ prawwwwns…..

  7. The real question for Blokamp is – can he make a movie without Sharlto Copley

    1. Come now, they’re like the ONLY South Africans in Hollywood. Of course they’re gonna stick together.

  8. … the horrors of apartheid…

    Oh, please. The majority of the South African population including blacks currently thinks life in South Africa was better under Apartheid.

    The “horrors” were entirely in the minds of globalist, communist agitators who were ecstatic to have a new white villain to demonize.

    1. Better isn’t necessarily not horrible. How many would go back to Apartheid? And where do you get that information from?

      1. I traced the information back to a source that refers to an old (2002) afrobarometer.org poll. However, none of the info from that time period is available and more recent polls

        http://www.afrobarometer.org/f…..5_sor2.pdf

        indicate that while people are extremely unhappy with the current conditions and government, very few would choose to go back to apartheid.

        So I withdraw my previous statement, at least the statistics.

        I don’t withdraw my own opinion that the supposed horrors of apartheid were wildly overblown and that the current cesspool of crime and slow white genocide is not preferable.

        1. The homicide rate in South Africa today is less than half of what it was when apartheid ended.

        2. Thanks! An internet poll is clearly what is needed to put a positive spin on institutionalized government racism.

          1. also, White Power! /derp

    2. [citation needed]

  9. I liked District 9 pretty well. Why doesn’t he make a sequel to that?

    1. It seemed like the obvious thing to do.

      Artists sometimes despise doing that. District 9 basically ended with a “To be continued…”, and I certainly wanted to know more. Instead, he transplanted his unique look to an empty ‘Elysium’ and seems on his way to become the new M. Night Shyamylon (sp?).

  10. I loved this movie when it was called “Short Circuit.”

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  12. “if God is so great, why must we die? Also, why do film scripts always have to make sense? Why shouldn’t non-actor pop stars be given a shot at lead roles?…

    Kurt Loder is still a badass.

    I personally find almost nothing more unbearable and aggravating than the pop-intellectualism / canned-morality of international film makers…

    (hell, we probably invented the format in the USA, but they just do it *so goddamn soppy-diaper-awful*)

    …in particular i’m thinking of movies like “Children of Men”, which despite having lots of ingredients that could be praised (*acting, cinematography, etc) was just some dumb fucking leftist dystopia which put environmental degradation, anti-immigration, holocaust-references into a blender and made “End of the World”-Soup out of them, making sure to throw in lots of high-brow visual and script references to the Bible and Dante and TS Eliot and Nazis and oh for the love of @#*()&@# just STFU.

    They don’t know how to make “smart” movies without turning them into the most pompous, pedantic, college-freshmen lectures. Or they think that *is* smart.

    meanwhile, movies like “Moon” or “Primer” or (others that don’t come to mind immediately)… manage to actually make pretty sophisticated philosophical comments without ever even letting you know they’re doing it. Because they don’t need to pile it on like so much intellectual-icing on top of a non-existent story = the story does it by itself.

    1. Oh, yeah. I still need to see Moon. Primer is one of my favorite movies. Definitely one of the best quality to budget ratios of any movie.

      1. Moon was excellent. If there’s a good anti-corporation sci-fi film to be made besides the Alien franchise, Moon was it. Sam Rockwell did a great job.

        1. agreed!, one of my favorite movies + actors

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  15. A perhaps unnecessary complication here is an even scummier gang that, with their tats and leathers and eccentric hairstyles, are clearly awol from a Mad Max movie ??? ?????? ??????. (Oddly, their muscle-bound leader speaks in subtitles, even though his English seemed clear enough to me.) These yobbos’ chief functions are to grunt and glower and act as targets for the robot police who soon come helicoptering in with guns blazing.

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