“Chappie” has an identity crisis.
The film tells a story better fit for PG-rated family fare, and then covers it in enough ugliness to garner a R-rating. In one scene, it’s trying to make you laugh, the next it’s trying to make you cry, and by the end, it aims to stun with excessive gore. Unfortunately, these elements don’t add up to a cohesive or enjoyable movie.
“Chappie” features familiar faces in Hugh Jackman and “Slumdog Millionaire” star Dev Patel, but the movie, oddly enough, belongs to people named Ninja and Yolandi, better known (to some) as South African rap group Die Antwoord. While they are near-impossible to take seriously, however, even they are not the main reason why the movie doesn’t work.
The real problem is that we’ve seen it all before. “Chappie” feels like Blomkamp put “E.T.”, “Short Circuit,” “Transcendence,” and “Robocop” in a blender and then covered it with “AI: Artificial Intelligence.” There’s not an original bone in the film’s body, and it plays like a mash-up of all the better sci-fi that came before it, but with way more repeated Die Antwoord tunes.
The film’s visual style is exactly what you’d expect if you’re familiar with Blomkamp’s oeuvre — incredible, seamless effects set against a desolate South African backdrop. It was interesting in “District 9” but feels boring and stale by now. As Doug Benson joked on the latest episode of “Doug Loves Movies” in reference to Blomkamp’s singular vision, “At least Woody Allen went to other boroughs.”
“Chappie” is more strange than it is anything else. Are Ninja and Yolandi playing themselves, as evidenced by the plethora of Die Antwoord merchandise strewn about the film? If they are playing themselves, why does nobody recognise them as popular rap stars? Die Antwoord definitely exists in the world of the film, as Ninja and Yolandi are literally wearing hoodies promoting themselves the entire time. It’s a confusing marketing move that has no business being in a feature film.
Another thing that made me laugh was how Hugh Jackman inexplicably carries a rugby ball throughout the entire film. Every scene he can be seen holding, squeezing, maybe even tossing his precious rugby ball, and it never comes into play in a big way as one might expected. It’s just bizarre.
Ultimately, it’s unclear who “Chappie” is for. Its sense of humour and inclusion of pop culture figures suggests that it’s for younger teens, but the film’s R-rating ensures that they can’t even buy a ticket. It’s too silly to intrigue die-hard, adult sci-fi fans, and too “out there” for children.
Neil Blomkamp seems to be failing upward in Hollywood, depending on who you ask. Blomkamp’s debut feature “District 9” was a massive success — earning $US115 million domestically on a tight $US30 million budget and a Best Picture nomination at the 2010 Oscars. His follow-up sci-fi actioner “Elysium” starring Matt Damon underperformed in the states, earning just $US93 million on a $US115 budget.
Critics were fairly kind to “Elysium” at the time, but even Blomkamp himself considers the film a failure, as he told Uproxx:
“The thing that bothers me is if I feel like I f—– it up… I feel like, ultimately, the story is not the right story. I still think the satirical idea of a ring, filled with rich people, hovering above the impoverished Earth, is an awesome idea. I love it so much, I almost want to go back and do it correctly. But I just think the script wasn’t… I just didn’t make a good enough film is ultimately what it is.”
Despite this, Blomkamp got to make “Chappie” for $US49 million, and it’s looking like the film won’t even make that back domestically after its tepid $US13 million opening weekend. In short, the director has yet to prove himself with a bigger budget, and meanwhile he has said in interviews that isn’t even sure he should be a film director.
And yet he continues to thrive and is about to get his biggest project yet. Back in January, Blomkamp posted concept art for an “Alien” movie that the studio “didn’t even know he was working on” on Instagram. The images went viral, and “Alien” fans seemed excited by his vision.
A photo posted by Brownsnout (@neillblomkamp) on Jan 1, 2015 at 6:06pm PST
A month later, Blomkamp took to Instagram to announce that his “Alien” movie is officially happening. This momentum could have been utilized by Sony to better market “Chappie,” but instead, Blomkamp’s “Alien” became the only story that mattered and “Chappie” fell by the wayside before it was even released.
A photo posted by Brownsnout (@neillblomkamp) on Feb 18, 2015 at 3:55pm PST
Could “Alien” be Blomkamp’s first big budget success, or will it just continue the streak of bigger and bigger failures?
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