Skip to main content

How was I supposed to know that you'd become you?

Chappie
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Neill Blomkamp scarcely needed anyone else voting against him self-penning his own movies after the underwhelming Elysium. But, just in case anyone was on the fence, he has ollowed it up with phenomenally misconceived Chappie, a picture so fascinatingly bad, so inept on every level (barring effects and action direction, both rendered with typically deceptive ease) that one is baffled Fox would be willing to hand him the keys to the Alien franchise.


I mean, let Blomkamp direct an Alien movie by all means but he shouldn’t be let near a typewriter ever again. This isn’t the first time a multi-hyphenate “auteur” has been unleashed on the all-conquering xenomorph. The last time was a decade ago when Paul W S Anderson, the legend in charge of the Resident Evil series, took it upon himself to match aliens against predators. I can give Elysium a bit of slack; I mean, it was clunkingly obvious and crude in its storytelling and logic, but its heart was in the right place. Pretty much. What Chappie is trying to say is a mystery.


On the one hand it’s the tale of an E.T. like innocent in Robocop form, a child A.I. brought up as a gangsta rapper by Die Antwoord (white South African rap-ravers Ninja and Yo-Lande Visser, playing themselves for reasons unclear – possibly the way Norman Wisdom always plays “Norman” – and excruciatingly providing soundtrack accompaniment too; one can only guess the latter came free, or they paid Blomkamp). On the other it’s a glorification of Johannesburg guns-and-ganster culture; our murderous protagonists are apparently to be rooted for and, even though Ninja’s a complete prick, he’s still Chappie’s “daddy” (I may have missed something, but I don’t get why we’re supposed to treat them like Ocean’s 11-type likeable felons).


The corporate side is absolute nonsense; so much of this movie teeters on the brink of self-parody, you only wish there was actually a sense of humour involved (at one point Yo-Landi is in bed with Chappie, Morecambe and Wise style, but it’s left at that). Deon (Dev Patel, pouring milk on his cardboard) has come up with the robot cop A.I. programme, much to the chagrin of Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman, who I’m guessing took the part solely to sport a ridiculous mullet and short shorts), whose Moose programme (ED209, basically) is rejected by CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, in the second successive case of Blomkamp getting a great actress and furnishing her with a lousy role).


Nothing about this office environment makes any sense. That Deon isn’t on the board after creating a smash hit robot police force, that Vincent is able to get up to no good at every turn (don’t they have an HR Department?), that Michelle is so hopelessly short-sighted she can’t perceive of any uses for either Vincent’s metal mammoth or, most nonsensically, Deon’s revelation that he really has created A.I. (“You’ve pitched me a robot that can write poems” she says, waving him away). She’s a moron.


Then there’s the strange anti-Robocop ethos running through the set-up, which is contrary to about 90% of such fare that puts humanity first; Vincent’s design has a human operator (it’s like a Jaeger!) but he’s the bad guy. It’s the guy behind the autonomous killing machine who’s right (although only so much, Deon is a nerdy square, which means he can’t ever be up there with Chappie’s surrogate mommy and daddy, Die Antwoord). This kind of backward logic reaches its most absurd extreme during the climax, in which – clearly forsaking any last vestiges of plausibility – Chappie uploads the dying Deon into the body of another robot. How does Deon react? He doesn’t bat a metal eyelid. This, despite the rational approach seen in the Robocop series (including the remake), that messing with one’s flesh and blood self would have untold psychological consequences (if you didn’t just plain lose it).


I don’t know, perhaps the He-Man reference is supposed to indicate the level of internal logic Blomkamp is working by, but even by Masters of the Universe standards this doesn’t make a lick of sense. Die Antwoord decide to abduct Deon because he must have a remote control to turn the robots off? It’s like this has been scripted for the Children’s Film Foundation, just with added dismemberments. At one point Ninja leaves Chappie in a rough neighbourhood to fend for himself and learn it’s a hard world. It doesn’t compute, particularly since Chappie barely makes it back and the robot is crucial for Ninja to pull off his robbery.


None of this might be so bad if Chappie was an endearing and loveable creation. He isn’t; he’s plain annoying (as motion captured and voiced by Sharlto Copley, never backwards in drawing attention to himself), be it playing the frightened infant or strutting gangsta poses; he’s only palatable during the opening section when offering more Robocop-esque delivery.


Blomkamp seems (I emphasise seems, as what the hell he’s up to is probably known only to him for certain) to be saying something about our freedom or lack thereof to be who we need to be, with the good and bad fathers (Ninja and Deon, but which is which?) pulling him in every which way to get what they want (Deon tells Chappie to nurture his creativity, not to kill, and to be himself, then starts dictating what he has to do). At the end, Yolandi’s consciousness is ready to be downloaded into a new robot form, a triumph for machines over flesh, and there isn’t the slightest doubt that she is to be rewarded for… being a good mother?


Ninja and Yo-Landi are both terrible, as if that needs saying. The former comes across as a particularly inept Albert Steptoe, just a tattooed version with designs on being a gangster. The latter, an excitable eight year old in an adult’s body with a voice to match, is just very odd, and intensely irritating. God knows what Jackman’s doing in this, although he does get to deliver the one funny line (“Come on, you little gangster!” Vincent gloats as he deals destruction via the Moose bot).


The effects are impressive, of course, and Blomkamp can be relied upon to deliver a sterling bit of action; there’s a freeway heist, the Moose on the rampage, and a final sequence where Chappie gets angry, lifted straight out of Murphy arresting Clarence Boddicker. His design, complete with ears, reminded me a bit of Green Rabbit from the Marvel Star Wars comics. Well, just the ears really.


Apparently Blomkamp has two sequels in mind, but it’s probably safe to say (I hope so, anyway) that they’re as likely as his District 9 sequel.  I really hope someone rewrites whatever gubbins he’s come up with for Alien 5 but given Sir Ridley’s rewrite input on Prometheus was less than reassuring, he probably thinks its dynamite stuff. Make no mistake, Chappie’s a bad movie, but it’s an expertly made bad movie, and its sort of hypnotic for how overwhelmingly bad it is. Meanwhile, if you want to see a half decent recent A.I. movie, you could do worse than check out Automata.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

What do you want me to do? Call America and tell them I changed my mind?

  Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) (SPOILERS) The demolition – at very least as a ratings/box office powerhouse – of the superhero genre now appears to be taking effect. If so, Martin Scorsese will at least be pleased. The studios that count – Disney and Warner Bros – are all aboard the woke train, such that past yardsticks like focus groups are spurned in favour of the forward momentum of agendas from above (so falling in step with the broader media initiative). The most obvious, some might say banal, evidence of this is the repurposing of established characters in race or gender terms.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you got yourself killed.

Bloodshot (2020) (SPOILERS) If the trailer for Bloodshot gave the impression it had some meagre potential, that’s probably because it revealed the entire plot of a movie clearly intended to unveil itself in measured and judicious fashion. It isn’t far from the halfway mark that the truth about the situation Vin Diesel’s Ray Garrison faces is revealed, which is about forty-one minutes later than in the trailer. More frustratingly, while themes of perception of reality, memory and identity are much-ploughed cinematic furrows, they’re evergreens if dealt with smartly. Bloodshot quickly squanders them. But then, this is, after all, a Vin Diesel vehicle.