“Chappie” falls short of excellence, lands average

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By Chris Mudd, Staff Writer

Director Neil Blomkamp made a name for himself after the success of “District 9,” a similarly grungy and dystopian depiction of life in the future. However, after the disappointing reception of his 2013 film “Elysium,” the future of this director is ambiguous.

His latest film, named after it’s robotic protagonist “Chappie,” is neither outstanding nor outright bad. It floats somewhere in between with moments of undoubtedly moving cinema coalescing with some of the most questionable plot decisions in recent memory.

The film stars Sharlto Copley as the police robot who acquires consciousness when his creator — played by the always fun-to-watch Dev Patel — bestows upon him an experimental program with artificial intelligence. Hugh Jackman made an appearance, boasting one of the few truly acceptable mullets in film history.

The South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord also made an appearance. At first, the idea of the two of them on the big screen enthralled me, as they are interesting characters in real life and would play quite well in Blomkamp’s world, yet their acting left a bad aftertaste. They were fun to watch, but they are not actors.

The biggest problem I had with “Chappie” was not the acting necessarily, but that our main character was completely passive. Everything that happened to him was due to him being manipulated; he didn’t make any of his own choices through the majority of the film.

Blomkamp made sure to establish that Chappie was very childlike in his behavior and intelligence. It’s a point that was thoroughly bashed into the heads of the audience over the course of the first act. Then we watched as he was corrupted and manipulated by the criminal underbelly of South Africa. As much as I enjoyed watching Die Antwoord on a movie screen, there was no denying that what they were doing was morally wrong by forcing Chappie to partake in heists, which made it really tough for me to care about them in the first place.

The film attempted to make its characters relatable, but it’s impossible, considering what they were doing. They were portrayed as the lesser of two evils compared to other criminals, but I felt as if I couldn’t connect with a single one of the characters.

“Chappie” is a step above “Elysium,” but I still left the theater unsatisfied. The world Blomkamp and his team created was extremely interesting, but the cookie-cutter robot fight scenes felt out of place in a film that set itself up as a philosophical exploration on the human condition.

Blomkamp now finds himself at the helm of the “Alien” franchise, directing what is supposed to be a “game-changer” in Ridley Scott’s world, according to the star of the previous installations, Sigourney Weaver.

While his last two films have been a let-down, I wouldn’t go so far as to call them bad movies. Blomkamps perspective on the world is an interesting one at the very least and I’m willing to give him another shot before comparing him to the Wachowski siblings and their notoriety as one-hit-wonder directors.

The next “Alien” may be Blomkamp’s last shot however, or else this one-time revered director may stumble into obscurity.