A robot raised to be a gangster has an identity crisis in Chappie.

Reel Reviews: Chappie’s storyline is robotic

Chappie, the new film by Elysium, District 9 director/writer Neill Blomkamp, is confused and confusing.

  • Mar. 15, 2015 6:00 p.m.

Deon (Dev Patel), a young robotics scientist, secretly gives true consciousness to a police robot designated for dismantling.

Having to hide the robot from everyone, #22 is named Chappie when he is reluctantly left with some hip-hop gangsters, Yo-Landi and Ninja (from Die Antwoord.)

A competing scientist, Vincent (Hugh Jackman), has a more aggressive robot that he wants to sell to the Johannesburg police force, which he might be able to do once Chappie is exposed as a renegade.

In order for that to happen, the would-be gangsters have to teach Chappie how to be tough and cool, yet still work within the parameters of Deon’s programming, which includes not hurting people or committing crimes.

We say, “Chappie is confused and confusing.”

TAYLOR: Sometimes an idea just sticks. For instance, having a floating ring satellite city in space full of rich folks while poor people on Earth are starving is a neat setup, yet Elysium was hated by most. This happens in films when the plot isn’t as awesome as the premise.

Chappie was an idea that Neill Blomkamp had before making Elysium or District 9. Obviously, the concept of artificial intelligence is a gold mine of film fodder all by itself and raising a baby up to be a gangster might also be fun to watch. Yet, having said robot be the baby, conflicted and confused, thrust into a much more convoluted story that I can’t believe at any particular plot point, Chappie goes from something that could have been amazing to something that misses every mark. This is due to Blomkamp being a visual effects guru and a poor writer. Anyone can slap together some cool scenes in a movie, not everyone can tell a story well.

HOWE: I don’t know if I agree that it misses every mark. I would say at least 10 per cent hit. That being the part when the film sucked me in about three quarters of the way. At that stage I forgot that I was watching a CGI robot, so I must applaud director/writer Blomkamp for that.

But for a movie costing roughly $50 million, it should have had a stronger storyline.

TAYLOR: I didn’t mind the film after I got over the initial preposterous plot. It’s not that Chappie the robot is unbelievable, nor does it bother me that there is no real explanation as to how he is given consciousness. At one point our scientist Dev Patel, who hams it up through this entire film, says that consciousness can’t be reduced to a single formula, then proceeds to install “consciousness data” into Chappie, who wakes up a frightened baby. What do you know, it works!

All of this, while extremely lazy, is irrelevant. It’s as if Blomkamp had a great idea for a sci-fi drama but threw in a couple more characters to complicate the story and create an action film. Finally, it’s unclear who this film is for. It’s curious and cute, like any film about raising a robot, yet it’s violent and rude, like a gangster film. I would have liked to see it toned down a bit, taken more seriously and without the big, stupid shoot out at the end.

HOWE:  Are you saying you didn’t like the original Robocop rip-off killing machine at the end, skillfully controlled by a mullet-haired Jackman in the tiniest shorts I’ve seen since John McEnroe at Wimbledon? To me that one scene – the over-the-top killing frenzy where bodies get ripped to pieces or shot to bits – spoiled the film. There are some other negative points but I have to let some things slide, for example the acting from the rapper weirdos was passable compared to Patel who is supposed to be a professional.

– Taylor gives Chappie 2 unnecessary B-stories out of 5.

– Howe gives it 2.5 rubber chickens out of 5.

Reel Reviews with Brain Taylor and Peter Howe appear the Morning Star every Friday and Sunday.

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