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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

I fear I’ve snapped his Gregory.

Twin Peaks 3.14: We are like the Dreamer.
(SPOILERS) In an episode as consistently dazzling as this, piling incident upon incident and joining the dots to the extent it does, you almost begin to wonder if Lynch is making too much sense. There’s a notable upping of the pace in We are like the Dreamer, such that Chad’s apprehension is almost incidental, and if the convergence at Jack Rabbit’s Tower didn’t bring the FBI in with it, their alignment with Dougie Coop can be only just around the corner.

Now you're here, you must certainly stay.

The Avengers 4.1:The Town of No Return
The Avengers as most of us know it (but not in colour) arrives fully-fledged in The Town of No Return: glossier, more eccentric, more heightened, camper, more knowing and more playful. It marks the beginning of slumming it film directors coming on board (Roy Ward Baker) and sees Brian Clemens marking out the future template. And the Steed and Mrs Peel relationship is fully established from the off (albeit, this both was and wasn’t the first episode filmed). If the Steed and Cathy Gale chemistry relied on him being impertinently suggestive, Steed and Emma is very much a mutual thing.

He’s a good kid, and a devil behind the wheel.

Baby Driver (2017)
(SPOILERS) Pure cinema. There are plenty of directors who engage in superficial flash and fizz (Danny Boyle or JJ Abrams, for example) but relatively few who actually come to the medium from a root, core level, visually. I’m slightly loathe to compare Edgar Wright with the illustrious likes of Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma, partly because they’re playing in largely different genre sandpits, partly because I don’t think Wright has yet made something that compares to their best work, but he operates from a similar sensibility: fashioning a movie foremost through image, supported by the soundtrack, and then, trailing a distant third, comes dialogue. Baby Driver is his most complete approximation of that impulse to date.

How dare you shush a shushing!

Home (2015)
(SPOILERS) Every so often, DreamWorks Animation offer a surprise, or they at least attempt to buck their usual formulaic approach. Mr. Peabody & Sherman surprised with how sharp and witty it was, fuelled by a plot that didn’t yield to dumbing down, and Rise of the Guardians, for all that its failings, at least tried something different. When such impulses lead to commercial disappointment, it only encourages the studio to play things ever safer, be that with more Madagascars or Croods. Somewhere in Home is the germ of a decent Douglas Adams knock-off, but it would rather settle on cheap morals, trite messages about friendship and acceptance and a succession of fluffy dance anthems: an exercise in thoroughly varnished vacuity.

Those dance anthems come (mostly) courtesy of songstress Rhianna, who also voices teenager Tip, and I’m sure Jeffrey Katzenberg fully appreciated what a box office boon it would be to have her on board. The effect is cumulatively nauseating though, l…

Cool. FaceTime without a phone.

Sense8 Season One
(SPOILERS) The Wachowskis do like their big ideas, but all too often their boldness and penchant for hyper-realism drowns out all subtlety. Their aspirations may rarely exceed their technical acumen, but regularly eclipse their narrative skills. And with J Michael Straczynski on board, whose Babylon 5 was marked out by ahead-of-its-time arc plotting but frequently abysmal dialogue, it’s no wonder Sense8 is as frequently clumsy in the telling as it is arresting in terms of spectacle.

I frequently had the feeling that Sense8 was playing into their less self-aware critical faculties, the ones that produced The Matrix Reloaded rave rather than the beautifully modulated Cloud Atlas. Sense8 looks more like the latter on paper: interconnecting lives and storylines meshing to imbue a greater meaning. The truth is, however, their series possesses the slenderest of central plotlines. It’s there for the siblings to hang a collection of cool ideas, set pieces, themes and fascina…

And you people, you’re all astronauts... on some kind of star trek.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
(SPOILERS) Star Trek: First Contact (also known as plain First Contact, back when “Star Trek” in the title wasn’t necessarily a selling point to the great unwashed. Or should that be great washed?) is probably about as good as a ST:TNG movie could be, in as much as it actively rejects much of what made the TV series what it is: starchy, placid, smug, platitudinous exchanges about how evolved humanity has become in the 25th century. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of that here too, but it mainly recognises that what made the series good, when it was good, was dense, time travel plotting and Borg. Mostly Borg. Until Borg became, like any golden egg, overcooked. Oh, and there’s that other hallowed element of the seven seasons, the goddam holodeck, but the less said about that the better. Well, maybe a paragraph. First Contact is a solid movie, though, overcoming its inherent limitations to make it, by some distance, the best of the four big screen outings with Pic…

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
(SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell, as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick.

Evil Bill: First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted: Then we take over their lives.
My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reeves in the summer of ’91 (inflatio…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…