Oh, things change quickly in the world of film.
One minute you’re the ‘Golden Boy’ with a highly-acclaimed breakthrough release like District 9, which then gives you enough grace with producers after your next film (Elysium) underwhelms – but what if your third film bombs?
That’s exactly what has happened with Neill Blomkamp’s third near-future sci-fi thriller Chappie – and that comes just a week after he was given the Alien 5 gig (Sigourney Weaver actually stars in this). Yep, this has opened poorly Stateside – despite a very interesting trailer – and it’s not hard to see why.
Blomkamp undoubtedly has a keen eye for sci-fi with an engaging visual style and some intriguing ideas, but just like with Elysium (which is actually better than this), this simply isn’t a patch on District 9, and shows that narratively the South African director has some noticeable shortcomings – highlighted by the talents of Weaver, Hugh Jackman and Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel being sorely underutilised.
The tone of the film is all-over-the-place and ends up being a cross between Robocop and Short Circuit – without being as good as either of them – and despite an encouraging premise ends up a bit of a mess.
Fortunately District 9’s lead Sharlto Copley is the best thing about it, as he stars as the title character – an android with a conscience called Chappie – via his voice talent and the superb use of motion-capture animatronics, and it’s this character you’ll root for the most, particularly when he gets bullied.
With crime patrolled by a robotic police force on the streets of South African city Johannesburg – supplied by arms company CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) – inventor Deon Wilson (Patel) is still looking to go beyond this and produce the first robot with an artificial intelligence, and steals a battered android to run tests on it.
But he gets kidnapped by a group of drug pushers – which includes the passable South African rap-rave duo of Ninja and Yolandi Visser – who have a large debt to pay, and order Wilson to program this robot (which becomes Chappie) for their own criminal means.
In the meantime, disgruntled ex-soldier and military employee Vincent Moore (Jackman) has found his own ED-209-alike robotic menace called ‘the Moose’ sidelined – and connivingly uses Wilson’s new creation as a way to bring his own invention to the fore.
But despite some interesting ideas, Chappie doesn’t really mesh together to form a coherent film, and – despite Copley’s best efforts – ends up as a major disappointment, even though the ending just about provides a passable pay-off.
Fortunately Blomkamp has shown enough promise to potentially make something special with the Alien franchise – but he shouldn’t be a happy Chappie with this underachievement.
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Cast: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Ninja, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Brandon Auret & Sigourney Weaver
Running Time: 2 Hrs
Director: Neill Blomkamp[youtube id=”l6bmTNadhJE” width=”600″ height=”350″]