The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

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Pretty Crappie

 120 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver

Supposedly, the next project from writer/director Neill Blomkamp, the creative vision behind District 9, will be another version of Alien. That may explain why his current movie, Chappie, is essentially a remix of two other well remembered science fiction films from that same general era, Robocop and Short Circuit. Hopefully, he’ll do a better job the next time around.


Like Robocop, Chappie is set in a dystopian near future in which the police in a large city (Johannesburg in this case) are constantly under siege from heavily armed street gangs. To combat these criminals, the authorities use  humanoid robots developed by weapons manufacturer Tetravaal to fight crime alongside and, in many cases, in place of human cops. Deon Bradley (Dev Patel), one of Tetravaal’s developers thinks he has discovered a means of changing the robots’ programming to give them actual consciousness. But when Tetravaal CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) refuses to let him test his new program, Deon instead steals a badly damaged robot destined for the scrap heap with the idea of implanting his program into the damaged machine.


Deon’s plans go awry when one of the street gangs kidnaps him with the idea of forcing him to deactivate the robot cops. He fast talks his way out of their hands by reactivating the damaged robot, with his new program already installed and leaving the robot with the gang until he can return to help educate the robot (which has the intelligence and maturity level of a child). The gang members are immediately enthralled by the robot, whom they name Chappie (who is voiced by Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley) and, with the exception of their leader, equally immediately become fairly nice, sweet people,


This latter statement illustrates one of the big problems with Chappie. Its plot often makes no sense and contains one unbelievable contrivance after another. The audience is required to believe that a street gang that uses explosives to blast open armored cars in broad daylight is somehow civilized by the sight of a robot talking like a five-year-old (one wonders what they would have done if they had found a kitten instead of Chappie). The screenplay attempts to explain that seeming contradiction by having the gang indebted to a really nasty gang run by a guy named Hippo who wants them to come up with millions in a week to replace what Hippo lost in a drug deal that went sour. Still, it’s clear that the gang, whose leader Ninja (ironically, played by a rap singer whose stage name is Ninja) alternates between being a brutal killer and a Fagin-type more likable scoundrel, is more comical than fearsome.


While Ninja is in one of his Fagin periods, he educates Chappie on how to act like a gangsta, which naturally enthralls the juvenile robot. The scenes of rapping Chappie are the best in the movie and would naturally appeal to children, that is, if many children could actually get in to see the movie. In another bizarre marketing decision, Chappie contains enough gratuitous bad language and violence to rightly earn it an R-rating and shut out its primary demographic audience.


The audience that does see Chappie will probably be impressed by the visual effects and the movie’s action scenes, even if many of the latter are cribbed directly from Robocop. The movie even has its own version of the ED-209 giant robot, which now is called the Moose and has the ability to fly. The Moose is the brainchild of another Tetravaal engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), a gung ho, ex-military type who believes that the more guns he can blast the bad guys with, the better. When Bradley vetoes his plans to deploy the Moose, he instead tries to sabotage and deactivate all the humanoid robots, knowing that the thugs will be out in force with no robots to stand in their way. By so doing, Moore hopes Bradley will let him unleash the Moose (which, unlike the humanoid robots, is controlled by a human wearing a flight helmet) against the gangs.


In his first two films, District 9 and Elysium, Neill Blomkamp raised a number of social, moral, and ethical issues and combined them with the traditional elements of an action movie. Chappie also raises ethical issues concerning the nature of consciousness, free will, and morality. But it does so in about as simplistic a manner as the pidgin patois Chappie himself uses throughout the film.


The shallowness of the moral issues in Chappie wouldn’t have mattered if the movie were more entertaining. But Chappie simply isn’t that empathetic a character. Yes, he is childlike, but instead of being a sweet innocent, he comes across more like a C3PO who’s consumed a few too many Red Bulls and winds up sounding like a juvenile Jar Jar Binks. Despite Copley’s best efforts to make Chappie likable, he’s simply not.


Chappie isn’t the worst science fiction film around, in part because it’s copiously borrowing plot elements from one classic of the genre, Robocop, and another fairly good movie, Short Circuit. Sadly, in every respect other than the mechanized upgrade from ED-209 to Moose, Chappie comes across as a collection of recycled parts. Nowhere is that more evident than in the performance of Hugh Jackman, whose character is badly underwritten and who often seems acutely embarrassed to be reciting his lines.


Chappie would probably have made acceptable Saturday night entertainment on the Sy Fy Network. It’s got the right juvenile messaging and silly humor. However, when laden with an R-rating and blown up on the big screen, its plot and characterization shortcomings are quite evidence. In short, when seen in theaters, it’s pretty clear that Chappie is fairly crappie.

Read other reviews of Chappie:


Chappie (2015) on IMDb