‘Chappie’ worth the price of admission

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First Posted: 3/9/2015

Wowey Zowey, people do not like the films of Neill Blomkamp, do they? I really don’t get it. The so-called hatred his films engender is totally lost on me. Understand this is coming from an embittered, beast-lump of a man who traipses about town in grease-stained sweatpants. I am a willfully miserable person and Blomkamp’s movies still manage to bring me joy-like feelings of quasi-happiness. I will grant you that all of his projects are occasionally muddled and frequently heavy-handed, but it’s the kind of heavy-handed I can appreciate.

I mean, it’s beyond me why people had such a problem with “Elysium.” What’s wrong with watching a bionic Matt Damon give the world free health care as he crushes the heads of robots and a thinly-veiled Margaret Thatcher stand-in? As much as I’d like to jump on top of the hate pile with other critics and say things like, “Chappie? More like Crappie!” as I shake my fanny to and fro in an elaborately choreographed dance of sexy contempt, I can’t because even though Blomkamp’s latest may be flawed, it’s just too damn entertaining.

In a future world where the mullet has returned only to mutate into various provocative and foreboding new strains, (most of the cast resemble James Franco’s character from “Spring Breakers” crossed with Ellen DeGeneres in the late 80s) hyper-violent gangs with hyper-offensive hair run amuck in South Africa. In order to regain some sort of order, the Johannesburg Police Department has replaced its human officers with bunny-eared androids. In spite of being unstoppable, unpredictable kill-bots, the droids are a massive success for a Halliburton-esque defense contractor and their creator (Dev Patel). However, Patel is unfulfilled and wants to create a robot that can imagi-dream their own rainbow of destiny. It’s a noble thought but an android that can ride on a magic whirlwind of social consciousness isn’t the kind of thing a Halliburton stand-in would consider to be profitable.

So, Patel secretly tests his AI program on a defective android dubbed Chappie (Sharlto Copley) that has only five days of battery life left. But just as Patel is assembling his sweet, child-like android, he’s abducted by Ninja and Yolandi Visser – members of the rave-rap group Die Antwoord (who in a weird twist are playing heightened versions of themselves) – who want to train the android to serve as their bodyguard for an upcoming heist. Meanwhile, as all of this is happening, Hugh Jackman – whose character has created Moose, the bulky, less-popular mech-alternative to Patel’s droids – jealously watches from the sidelines scheming and really laying his Australian-ness on super thick. The brain of the Crocodile Hunter in a jar of Vegemite that was placed on the body of a kangaroo isn’t half as Australian as this obnoxiously Australian man.

Described as a “developing child” by Patel, Chappie is alternately endearing and annoying. It’s also not hard to see why he’s one of the film’s biggest stumbling blocks for most people. Combining the unearned arrogance of a teenager with the unwavering neediness of a dog, Chappie is a difficult character to warm up to. But what works about “Chappie” isn’t Chappie as much as Chappie’s relationship to the other characters. There’s something weirdly amusing about the idea of pastel gun-toting gang-bangers unofficially adopting a manic robot as their son, at least initially. Eventually it develops into something sweeter, but lovably sour. Particularly the scene where Ninja tricks Chappie into thinking that stabbing people will just make them go “sleep-weepy” for a little while. It’s dark but oddly cute.

Like Blomkamp’s previous efforts, “Chappie” is muddled, but seems muddled by design. A scene late in the movie where Chappie nearly kills a character while screaming, “No more violence” makes sense considering the mixed signals the android has received from its psychotic adoptive father and its comparably better adjusted creator. Also, like Blomkamp’s previous efforts, there’s an admirable level of scumminess attached to “Chappie.” Every scene looks like it was drenched in hot dog water, cat piss and dirt clods.

It’s hard not to applaud any film that isn’t afraid to look like it has some form of hepatitis. Additionally, Chappie boasts incredible action sequences such as the showdown between the titular robot and Jackman’s Moose that closes the film. In short, “Chappie” is sure to please Blomkamp’s ever-decreasing circle of fans. For everyone else, “Chappie” is basically that gritty reboot of “Short Circuit” you never asked for. Even though, deep in your heart you know you always wanted to watch Johnny 5 whip a throwing star into the shoulder of a Brinks truck driver. And don’t tell me that’s not true you dirty, little, liar man.