At the time of writing, Neill Blomkamp has directed three movies. His first one, District 9, hit bullseye immediately. His third one seems to be, as the British tend to say, marmite. More than 191.000 votes have been cast on the IMDb site and the overall score can only be described as decent (6.9/10). Dissecting the score, you’ll find the movie is best liked by girls younger than 18 and the most active voters gave it the lowest ranking. To us, that seems to make a lot of sense. In a couple of sentences, we’ll reveal which question we’re going to ask if someone wants to hear from us if we’d recommend Chappie or not. But first, it’s time for a synopsis.
District 9 exposed us to an alien race, forced to live in the slums of South Africa. Chappie also takes us to that area, this time only to show us crime gangs who terrorize the neighbourhood, the police and other gangs. Luckily, the film is set in the near future, so the police can rely on droids to be sent into the field. One such droid, number 22, isn’t too lucky: fresh from a repair session, it’s once again destroyed the first time it’s back on a mission. The droid is written off and would’ve been destroyed if it weren’t for its creator Dean Wilson (Dev Patel). Dean has just made a breakthrough in an AI project and sees N°22 as the perfect droid to test it out on: can droids start thinking? Or, as Dean seems to wonder, write its own poetry. Because that’s the niche market we still needed: droid poetry.
Sadly for Dean, a criminal gang wants to kidnap him to control all droids and once they discover Dean’s secret project and the broken droid, it doesn’t take them too long to start using Chappie, the name they give the thinking droid, for their evil plans…
Dev Patel isn’t the only known name in the credits list of Chappie. Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver also smaller roles and there’s even a cameo for CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Oh, and there’s Die Antwoord. Which brings us to that question you were going to ask us:
You: “Hey Kurtodrome, should we watch Chappie or not?”
We: “Well, let us ask you something too: do you like Die Antwoord?”
If you don’t like Die Antwoord, by all means skip this film. If you like them a lot, go and watch it. If you’re somewhere in between, avoid Chappie too. And if you watch your movies based on how credible the performances of the artists are, we have very bad news for you. Yo-Landi (that should be ¥o-Landi Vi$$er, but we can no longer be @r$€d to deal with weird letters) has a decent range, but Ninja is such a two-dimensional charicature, even more than in the videos of the band) that it hurts the film. Even Blomkamp seems to have no idea what he wants to do: direct a movie or the video of the next Die Antwoord video. There are moments where Die Antwoord look like they’re acting, only for Chappie to suddenly start playing a bit from another track. And nowhere is that more painful than when Die Antwoord, another gang member and Chappie are ready for a robbery and walk towards the camera in slow motion (because that’s been cool since Reservoir Dogs, which was totally the first movie to ever do that – and no, Ta****ino never stole an idea from another movie, never). All natural sounds have been deleted and all we hear over the sight over this wannabe cool shot is a track by Die Antwoord. Which, even if you like the band, makes you realize you’re watching a long fanboy promo rather than a movie.
There are more scenes which hardly make sense: as Chappie is a droid who doesn’t want to do any harm, Ninja – who is played by Ninja – leaves him with a group of hoodlums, who terrorize him and set him on fire. But Chappie is a droid, so he survives… only to be kidnapped by a colleague of Dean who really hates Dean’s guts and cuts off one of Chappie’s arms… as one does. Which could’ve been moving, but then Yo-Landi and Dean use another arm as replacement and that’s the end of that (sort of). And then there’s the bit where Chappie doesn’t want to hold a gun because that hurts people… but he is fine with stabbing people. True, in the film it’s explained: Ninja – who is played by Ninja – tells Chappie that stabbing somebody “puts them to sleep”. Erm, but don’t the people who get stabbed shout in pain and start bleeding? Yes, they do, but for some reason Chappie is okay with that, despite stabbing and shooting looking very much alike and even though Chappie has already seen people sleep (so an intelligent droid should’ve known that this was a clear lie).
And in the end, that is the real problem with Chappie: it doesn’t know whether it wants to be trash or an emotional rollercoaster, a movie or an extended fanboy video for a band. And for us, that’s too many problems to like the film. It’s not that we don’t like Die Antwoord, because we like some of their tracks. It’s that one half of the duo can’t act in a film that has no idea of what it’s trying to be. Unless they always wanted to make a convoluted mess.