There are some very simple truths about characters. For instance: good guys have to be somewhat likeable. If the good guy in your story isn’t likeable, even a little, it’s hard to root for them. Sadly, this is just one of many problems with CHAPPiE (Blu-ray, DVD), a misfiring sci-fi movie from District 9 and Elysium writer/director Neill Blomkamp.
In the not-so-distant future world of CHAPPIE, humanoid robots have joined humans on the police force. But this isn’t enough for Deon (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel), a ’bot engineer who has cracked artificial intelligence, and is in the process of stealing a broken robot on which to test his A.I. program when he’s carjacked by some criminals who want him to stop the robot cops. Instead, he fixes the busted ’bot, installs the A.I., and Chappie (who was motion captured and voiced by The A-Team’s Sharlto Copley) is born. It’s just too bad that the criminals who grabbed Deon, and have become Chappie’s defacto mommy and daddy, are a bunch of shmucks who corrupt Chappie’s personality, while Deon’s coworker (Hugh Jackman from The X-Men movies) is a jealous jerk who uses this as an opportunity to further his own ambitions.
At first, CHAPPiE seems like it’s heading down the same narrative pathway as Avengers: Age Of Ultron and every other movie where a robot or computer becomes sentient and it scares the crap out of people who’ve seen The Matrix trilogy and The Terminator movies. But while CHAPPiE does eventually get around to having Jackman trying to kill him before he can do any harm, it doesn’t take the obvious or direct a route that other films have taken. In part, this is because Jackman’s is too self-absorbed to think about anything more than his own career, and in part because Chappie’s criminal captors are similarly self-centered.
So why is CHAPPiE so hard to watch? In part it’s because even in trying to take a different path from point A to point B, it’s still rather obvious. As you’d expect, there’s the scene where Chappie watches an old cartoon and apes its hero, another where the criminals teach Chappie a bunch of curse words, and, of course, the part where Chappie’s innocent nature causes the criminals to have a change of heart.
It also doesn’t help that these criminals are hip-hop gangsters who come across as clowns that are play acting as opposed to real criminals. Especially since their silly capering is mirrored by Chappie, and seeing a robot act like a street tough just drives home how his criminal captors are unthreatening poseurs.
It will also take you out of CHAPPiE when you hear songs in its soundtrack that were done by two of the actors who play the criminals, Watkins Tudor “Ninja” Jones and Yolandi Visser of the rap-rave group Die Antwoord. Not only is the music just awful, like the kind of cheap-sounding techno-flavored hip-hop you’d hear in a sci-fi spoof, but hearing characters voices in songs just doesn’t make narrative sense (that Visser has the sing-songy voice of annoying three-year-old doesn’t help, either).
Then there are the problems with how CHAPPiE was shot. When Chappie faces down Jackman, he does so with a bit of slo-mo so cliché you half expect to hear the music from a mid-’80s Schwarzenegger movie. Which may have been cool back then, but here it seems like a parody, and a tired one at that.
CHAPPiE also, like Elysium, has a rather preposterous moment that, if you’re like me, will take you out of the movie and maybe even ruin it for you. And no, I’m not talking about the silly scene where he’s in bed with Visser and she’s reading him a story. After turning Chappie on for the first time, and seeing that his A.I. program works, Deon is chased off by the criminals, but tells them he’s going to come back the next day. And he does. He doesn’t call the cops, or even his bosses. Even dumber, the criminals just let him go. Y’know, the guy they carjacked, kidnapped, and stole from, and who could go to the police or even his bosses and show up with an army of robot cops.
In fact, the only truly entertaining part of CHAPPiE is when they use him to steal cars, since it’s here that Chappie — and, well, CHAPPiE — shows a spark of creativity and humor. Though one fun scene with a rubber chicken does not make for a good movie.
But here’s the kicker: If you did like CHAPPiE — and more power to you if you did — you’ll probably be disappointed by its Blu-ray, and really ticked off at its DVD.
If you get the CHAPPiE DVD, you’ll be able to enjoy “We Are Tetravaal,” which talks about Weaver, Patel, and Jackman, and their roles in the film. It’s a fairly generic making-of featurette that offers no real insight.
The thing is, “We Are Tetravaal” is the only extra on the CHAPPiE DVD. If you get the CHAPPIE Blu-ray, you’ll also get eight other making-of featurettes — “Chappie: The Streetwise Professor,” a look at Chappie’s personality; “Arms Race: The Weapons And Robots,” which explores the tech in the movie; the self-explanatory “Bringing Chappie To Life: The Visual Effects”; “From Tetra Vaal To Chappie,” a featurette on the origins of the story; “Keep It Gangster,” which centers on the criminals and their equally unconvincing nemesis; a look at the movie’s setting called “Jozi: Real City And Sci-Fi Setting”; the also self-explanatory “Rogue Robot: Deconstructing The Stunts & Special Effects”; and “The Reality Of Robotics,” in which the filmmakers and real scientists talk about the current state of robots — as well as an alternate ending, an extended version of a scene, and a photo gallery. This hardly seems fair for DVD owners.
Then there’s all the things that could’ve been included on the CHAPPIE Blu-ray and DVD, but weren’t. Like, for instance, a commentary track by Blomkamp, Jackman, Patel, and Copley. Or maybe the movie’s original trailers, which are part of the CHAPPiE experience and thus should be included.
In the end, the CHAPPiE Blu-ray is as disappointing as the movie it presents, and the DVD is far worse. And there’s nothing likeable about that.