‘Chappie’ crosses too many wires

By Jacob Pierce, Daily Egyptian

Neil Blomkamp’s directing career has been a rocky road. It started with the high point, “District 9.” The film came out of nowhere, rising from the independent scene to being a Best Picture Academy Award contender and blew modern science fiction out of the water.

His next film, Elysium, was a critically lukewarm endeavor. Some will say it was an underrated movie, but most will say it did not reach the levels of Blomkamp’s first feature. But his latest work signals that it is time to question whether “District 9” was a first time fluke or a hard mountain to get back on.

“Chappie” (Rated R; 120 min) directed by Blomkamp, with its messy execution, provides more evidence toward the director’s creativity being a fluke.

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Crime has all but been eradicated in Johannesburg, South Africa. A city known for having a notoriously high crime rate is now policed by a mechanized police force, making human cops nearly obsolete. The creator of the artificial intelligence agent running the droids, played by Dev Patel, is now on the verge of creating something more revolutionary.

He births artificial consciousness: a robot with emotions, thoughts and desires. When he creates the intelligent automaton named Chappie, played by Sharlto Copley, it brings up many frightening questions. Vincent Moore, played by Hugh Jackman, fears and wants to kill the thinking robot, for seemingly religious purposes that are never explicitly explained.

Blomkamp should be given some praise—his innovative concepts being uniquely consistent. His ideas are some of the most awe-inspiring science fiction visualizations since the original “Star Wars” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” He creates serious fiction for any type of moviegoer.

From “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” to “Short Circuit,” the idea of a walking toaster learning to be human has been done a lot. “Chappie” adds an emotional level few are able to hit by playing out more like a drama than action, making it a little more human. Seeing Chappie become a “person” feels like watching a child become an adult.

Copley’s performance was the best out of a roster of other amazing actors. He does everything through voice because Chappie is a computer-generated character, but this does not hinder his performance. He makes the character childlike and relatable.

Most of the robot’s scenes involve two gangsters played Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of the South African rap-rave group, Die Antwoord. Some critics  liken the characters to everyone’s favorite punching bag, Jar Jar Binks. I will not go that far, but they are highly annoying characters downgrading each of their scenes with their amateur performances.

The film never really knows what it wants to talk about. Sometimes it touches on the idea of consciousness, and other times it talks about artificial intelligence and what constitutes a living creature. This allows many things to fall to the wayside and hurt the film greatly.

A huge wound the film suffers from is Jackman’s villain character. While Jackman gives the terrific performance he is known for, the filmmaker must have forgotten that villains also need motivation. The character goes from slightly intense former soldier to psychopath ready to kill humans with little cause. His incomplete reasoning for hating “Chappie” is summed up in three lackluster scenes.

It seemed everyone was rooting for this movie. It is hard to think the man who created “District 9” might be a one-hit wonder, especially since “Elysium” was full of fantastic concepts. “Chappie” will make you feel angry and emotional. Unfortunately, the anger and disappointment outweigh the little enjoyment the film brings.

Stars: 2.5 out 5

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