“Chappie” (R) 1 star (out of four)
There’s no other way of putting it: “Chappie” is crappie.
After a brilliant debut with the Best Picture Oscar nominee “District 9” and the sharp downward turn with the preachy, universal health care polemic “Elysium,” writer-director Neill Blomkamp has sunk to even deeper depths with “Chappie” – a ridiculous artificial intelligence action thriller that makes the sci-fi disaster “Transcendence” look, well, intelligent.
While the film’s trailers and TV spots highlight such A-listers as Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver, the true star of “Chappie” turns out being the voice and motion-capture movement of Sharlto Copley, the lead in “District 9” and bad guy opposite Matt Damon in “Elysium.” Set in the near future in Johannesburg, South Africa (the same setting as “District 9”), the streets are policed by robots invented by Deon (Dev Patel), a young scientist on the verge of creating artificial intelligence.
When Deon finally cracks the AI code, he uploads the technology into a damaged robot (Copley), only to lose control of the now sentient being to a small gang of thugs looking to gain the upper hand on police and other criminals. Standing in their way, though, is Vincent (Jackman), a driven rival robot developer who will go to extreme lengths to put into play “The Moose,” a larger and much more lethal brand of law enforcement.
The sad part about “Chappie” is that Blomkamp wastes Patel, Jackman (in a supporting role) and Weaver (in a small role as the profits-driven CEO of the robotics company) in favor of South African rave-rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser (of the group Die Antwoord), who dreadfully overact in their major roles as two of three gang members who educate the very impressionable Chappie in the ways of gang life and hip-hop slang. And while Chappie at first leaves you feeling sorry for him in his infantile stages, by the time he quickly grows into an “adult” and starts swaggering around with bling around his neck, talking trash, shooting a gun sideways and grabbing his robotic crotch, the movie becomes laugh-out-loud funny, but in a bad way.
Half-heartedly using the formula of “District 9,” and borrowing inspiration from “Short Circuit” and the original, classic 1987 version of “RoboCop” (Chappie in a sort of way mimics RoboCop, while The Moose is clearly ED-209), “Chappie’s” fatal flaw comes with Blomkamp’s decision to make the sentient robot his protagonist, instead of focusing on the dangers of artificial intelligence. The movie is just a jumbled mess. At first, Blomkamp seems to satirize the gang-banger culture, only to eventually pander to and glorify it, as if he somehow hopes we’ll identify with a robot as a street thug merely because he’s developed feelings. There’s a weakened battery that’s keeping Chappie “alive” throughout the course of the film, and it doesn’t die out quick enough.
Reviewed in brief:
“Unfinished Business” (R) 1 star (out of four)
Vince Vaughn leads a trio of struggling businessmen who travel overseas in a desperate bid to score a deal that will save their small company. The outcome is predictable from the get-go, and in between, we’re treated to 90 minutes of one horribly unfunny scenario after the other. Vaughn and his co-stars Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco are talented enough, but the actors – along with James Marsden, Nick Frost and Sienna Miller in supporting roles – are totally wasted here. “Unfinished Business” is a movie that had no business being made.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.