Movie Review: “Chappie” chafes, and not in a good way


Wrongheaded in conception, eye-rolling in execution, “Chappie” is a childish blend of the cute robot goofiness of “Short Circuit,” and the bloody-minded mayhem of “Robocop.” It never finds its sweet spot and never, for one moment, works.
Neill Blomkamp, the director of “District 9,” has utterly exhausted his supply of South African sci-fi ideas with this disaster, an excruciating two hours of your life you will fear, quite rightly, you will never get back.
A couple of years in the future, robots have taken over a chunk of Johannesburg’s police force, and judging from Hugh Jackman, mullet haircuts have staged a comeback. Jackman, third-billed here, plays a weapons designer whose gigantic, heavily-beweaponed war robot is nothing the local police want anything to do with. They’re happy with the skinny, self-contained Scout robots that Deon (Dev Patel) designed, which has Jackman’s Vincent Moore bitter and resentful.
And Deon’s not done. He is on the verge of a sentient robot, one who can think and feel. If only the boss (Sigourney Weaver) would give him permission.
Blomkamp’s muse, his fellow South African Sharlto Copley, is the voice of Chappie. And a South African white rapper named Ninja plays…Ninja, a low-rent gang-banger who is plainly decades older than everybody he hangs with and those his gang is at war with. He dreams up a scheme to kidnap the chief robot designer so that he can turn off the robocops for a heist. That’s how Deon and his sentient prototype, which Ninja the gangster’s girlfriend (Yo-Landi Visser) promptly names “Chappie” the moment Deon boots him up, fall into their hands.
Cloyingly, Chappie behaves like a shy puppy the moment he comes to life. Amusingly, he picks up some of the profane, violent and guttural Afrikaner slang and accent from Ninja and Yolandi, whom he calls “Daddy” and Mommy.”
Yolandi, armed to the teeth and covered in tattoos, develops an instant mommy bond with the gadget that looks like the armed and armored machine that has been a menace to her and her kind. That’s head-slappingly hilarious. The head-slapping continues when the gangsters — get this — LET their scientist/kidnap-victim go, because he promises to return and “teach” Chappie language and morality and art every day after work.  Kidnappings of the future are a nine to five commitment, I guess.
Ninja tries to overcome the robot’s reluctance to take up violence and crime by showing Chappie that the “real world” is dog-eat-dog. Deon tries to get the mincing machine to master landscape painting.
Blomkamp wrings intentional laughs out of Chappie’s ineptitude at a life of crime, and unintentional laughs at pretty much everything else. How to convince Chappie to kill? Tell him he’s to “Make them go sleepy-weepy.”
This “The Education of Little Chappie” drags on and on, with passing suggestions of how morality is taught and what constitutes “sentient.” Patel (“Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) is a broad hysteric here, and Jackman a simple burly menace, a military man used to strong-arming wimpy engineers to get what he wants. And Copley? He’s just insipid as the voice of Chappie.
The most valuable player here has to be Blomkamp’s agent, who got him assigned to the next “Alien” movie before this abomination (co-written with his wife) got out and suggested that he’s run out of ideas on just his third outing as director. That’s thinking about the future.


MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief nudity
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman
Credits: Directed by Neill Blomkamp, written by Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell. A Sony release.
Running time: 2:00

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in previews, profiles and movie news, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Movie Review: “Chappie” chafes, and not in a good way

  1. FilmFan says:

    I love film critics, they claim to know exactly what goes into a great film, yet they don’t have the guts to try it themselves. Blomkamp’s film might not be perfect, but at least he isn’t making a living critiquing other people’s work. All you need is an iphone and a laptop to make a film these days, no excuses Mr. Moore, show the world how it is done!

    • Yes, and nobody should ever criticize politicians, musicians or athletes either, because. You know, we should be footballing/running for office/composing “All About da Base” ourselves. All of us. Rather than seeing everything, judging some filmmakers, actors, singers or presidents better than others. It’s not human nature at all. Dumbest, most childish comment of the night, “Jackie Chan Fan.”

  2. It seems you’ve made an error, Sharlto Copley does not in fact play Ninja. He mo-caps and voices Chappie. Ninja is played by a South African rapper called Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones). Him and Yo-Landi Visser are from a rap group called Die Antwoord.

    • Quite right, a review filed in haste, written after the last minute as they held the screening late because the studio knew it sucked. Fixed. Thanks.

      • Max says:

        It is the studio’s fault your review has factual errors? Come on now.

      • Yup, it is. Ninja looks a bit/a lot like Sharlto Copley. “Ninja” playing “Ninja” in the credits seems…precious. Within the realm of nom de plume, an inside joke played by director/actor.

  3. Justin says:

    Originally I was going to leave a boldly staunch and insulting comment against your review, perhaps because I wish Alien to be good, and I would like to picture you being full of shit.

    But alas, I have no right in doing that, considering I have not seen the film, and it would be a biased filled outburst against you that would serve nothing but give you fuel for maintaining your stark objectivity.

    I just hope you are wrong, because you seem like such a dick.

  4. Jacob Crim says:

    Maybe getting him out of the slums of South Africa will help the Alien film. I still have my fingers crossed because of District 9.

  5. Greg says:

    This review is abysmal. I haven’t seen the film and don’t particularly expect to like it, but this review it just poor.

    Also, do you realise that the Alien franchise is 50/50 at best? Giving it to ‘this guy’ wouldn’t be a step down.

    You just seem to be blurting out pretentious nonsense without even taking the time to research who plays who. ‘Written in haste’? Have some respect.

  6. Darren Peach says:

    Ironic that the film critic finds it necessary to defend his opinion.

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