Director Neill Blomkamp is looking to join the M. Night Shyamalan Secret Society.
Shyamalan dazzled audiences with both “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” before devolving into the hack responsible for “Lady in the Water,” “The Happening” and “After Earth.”
Blomkamp drew huzzahs for his “District 9” debut, but his follow-up “Elysium” proved a bloated rant in favor of open boarders and universal health care.
Blomkamp’s third feature, “Chappie,” continues that dispiriting downward trend. It’s more proof his early promise was as real as that Nigerian prince’s email caught in your spam filter.
“Chappie” begins with a “Robocop” style solution for Johannesburg’s crime wave. A company floods the city with robotic police officers to augment the flesh and blood cops. The result? More dead bad guys and safer citizens.
The program is a smash, which enrages one company inventor (Hugh Jackman) who would rather send his own anti-thug robot into the fray.
Enter Deon (Dev Patel, overacting in line with his co-stars), who comically stumbles upon artificial intelligence and installs it into a badly damaged robo-droid. Thus “Chappie” is born, a child-like creation who learns with the speed of a supercomputer.
When Chappie falls into the hands of thugs who shop at the Mad Max Fashion Emporium, the robot’s real-world education begins.
“Chappie” lacks the overt soapboxing that made “Elysium” such an endurance test. But that film’s one-note characters are firmly in line with what he see here. Jackman gets his worst role in some time, but so does Sigourney Weaver as the robot company’s president.
No one comes off well in “Chappie,” particularly Sharlto Copley who provides the movement and voice for the titular robot. He’s not nearly as endearing as we need him to be in a film like this.
Then again, why are we asked to root for villains like Chappie’s sorta-surrogate parents? And why steal so many beats from a classic like “Robocop” without improving on any of them?
“Chappie” offers glimpses of inspiration. Once more Blomkamp delivers an intriguing canvas of societal rot, and the battle to keep crime at bay is a ripe subject for inspection.
The film’s modest budget gives it an edge on paper, forcing us to care about the characters and situations, not the razzle dazzle. But when said characters lack texture and the final act packs on the generic action we hunger for a CGI trick to pick up the slack.
“Chappie” isn’t the work of a revolutionary new talent trying out his tricks on movie goers. It’s a recycled romp made of spare parts that fit better elsewhere.
DID YOU KNOW: Director Neill Blomkamp has been hired to make a new “Alien” sequel starring Sigourney Weaver.
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HiT Movie Review: ‘Chappie’