“Chappie” is passable entertainment…but that’s all. And I’ve been expecting so much more from director Neil Blomkamp, but he’s failing to deliver. In the summer of 2009, he unleashed his sci-fi hit, “District 9”, and Neil seemed to be headed for great things. It placed #2 on my annual Top Ten list for that year, and was eventually nominated for 4 Academy Awards–including Best Picture. His 2013 follow-up, “Elysium” was not as popular with the critics, but made some decent coin. A well-made film, many of us chalked it up to Blomkamp falling victim to the sophomore jinx. But now with 2015’s “Chappie”, I’m starting to wonder. Maybe Neil Blomkamp is simply a one-trick pony. Initially excited by the prospect of him helming a new entry in the “Alien” franchise–now I’m not so sure.
In the very near future, the Johannesburg crime rate is out-of-control, and the South African government combats it with newly created, armor-plated, attack robots. The program is very successful, and credited for saving countless lives of police officers. But competing engineers, Deon Wilson (the capable Dev Patel) and Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman–giving Wolverine a rest), have much different plans for their respective robot programs. And things get interesting when Wilson creates an automaton with intelligence, and the android develops quickly, after first exhibiting the mind of a young child. When the A.I. is “kidnapped” by a gang attempting to pay off debt to a powerful rival, it is dubbed “Chappie”, and taught to perform some not-so-nice “deeds”. Let the gunfire and explosions begin!
The special effects in “Chappie” are quite impressive, and the sound design is incredible. There’s even a strong vocal performance for the title character, given by frequent Blomkamp collaborator, Sharlto Copley. Hey, we also get sci-fi royalty Sigourney Weaver on-board as a corrupt corporate CEO (is there any other kind?). So, it’s not that “Chappie” is horrible. However, it is a bit too silly and goofy, and ultimately sentimental. Also, Mr. Blomkamp’s devices are getting a bit tired, and are beginning to feel like overused retreads. His social and political metaphors seemed powerful in “District 9”–but they’ve run their course. Ultimately, “Chappie” is watchable, but a bit of a disappointment. But I didn’t find the title character annoying, as many critics appeared to, due to Mr. Copley’s sharp interpretation. But still, the promise of “District 9”, now seems like an awfully long time ago.