It might not have been intentional, but it’s fortunate that Fox pushed out the news of Neill Blomkamp’s Instagram post-turned-“Alien” sequel before the release of “Chappie,” since the reviews of his third feature are enough to quell anyone’s enthusiasm for his next project. It seemed impossible that the movie could be as bad as its advance publicity, which promised something like a rehash of Blomkamp’s cult favorite “District 9” and its near-disastrous followup, “Elysium” with the Steve Guttenberg classic “Short Circuit.” But based on the initial round of reviews — and the fact that the movie’s not being screened for press at all in much of the country — it seems it is just that bad.
The plot, from what one can garner between critics’ howls of pain, involves a robot designer played Dev Patel in a near-future Johannesburg who wants to rejigger his crime-fighting creations to more existential ends. Fighting an indifferent boss (Sigourney Weaver) and a corporate rival (Hugh Jackman), and urged on by a group of thugs (Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of the South African rap group Die Antwoord), he creates an artificially intelligent robot he names Chappie — after a popular brand of gum, obviously. It wouldn’t be a Neill Blomkamp movie without some CGI effects, which here are deployed to allow Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley to play Chappie, lending both his voice and his physical movements to the film’s namesake. The bigger impression, though not for good, is made by Ninja and Visser, who critics say feel glaringly out of place and out of their depth — although the fact that they wander through the movie wearing Die Antwoord gear is so bad it starts to seem a little bit awesome. That’s just one terrible idea among dozens of non-starters, which makes it sound like the “Alien” franchise isn’t the only thing Blomkamp needs to reboot.
Reviews of “Chappie”
James Rocchi, the Wrap
Blomkamp earned his name on his first film for wringing mega-effects out of a minimal budget, and he does the same here, pushing every bit of his increased resources to the breaking point with the help of WETA’s techs and artisans. And yet all of the visual rapture in the film — the unleasing of the Moose, the way Chappie’s movements become more and more human — can’t replace the numbing sensation that comes as “Chappie” recycles and riffs on “District 9” and “Elysium” from its opening credits to its hackneyed final shot. Throughout this film, you’ll be told repeatedly in whispers and shouts, that the now self-aware Chappie has feelings. It’s too bad that neither the philosophy nor the pyrotechnics on-screen in “Chappie” can distract you from your own sinking feeling that you’ve seen almost all of this before.
Tim Grierson, Screen International
Much like “District 9” and “Elysium,” “Chappie” seeks to be a warning about our failings as a society. And as is often the case with Blomkamp’s work, “Chappie” makes its points without subtlety, although that’s not to say that they can’t be affecting. But these intellectual notions — along with tedious ruminations about the mystery of consciousness — are never explored with sufficient insight or curiosity. Instead, they’re just part of the hodgepodge, alongside an unimaginative “Mad Max”-like future of armed criminals with terrible haircuts and silly wardrobes meant to suggest how frightening the road ahead could be unless we change our ways. Whether it’s Weaver’s profits-before-people mentality or Chappie’s confusion about why humans break promises and do bad things, “Chappie” is a forthrightly earnest message movie whose conceits aren’t that fresh.
Justin Chang, Variety
Mashing together various elements from director Neill Blomkamp’s earlier sci-fi pictures (including another prominent role for Sharlto Copley), this South African spin on “Short Circuit” displays the same handheld immediacy and scene-setting verve as its predecessors, but all in service of a chaotically plotted story and a central character so frankly unappealing he almost makes Jar-Jar Binks seem like tolerable company by comparison. Absent “District 9’s” subtle apartheid allegory or “Elysium’s” health-care brief, but offering a bizarre performance showcase for the rap-rave group Die Antwoord, Blomkamp’s third feature exhausts its meager ideas and the viewer well before the end of its two-hour running time.
Travis Clark, Indiewire
Part sci-fi drama, part CGI-fueled action-thriller — with some awkward shadings of black comedy — the film offers a lot of intriguing characteristics that never fully gel. Blomkamp’s first feature was so strong that it left no doubt he could make another great one — but “Chappie” sadly falls short of satisfying those expectations.
Mike Ryan, Uproxx
Chappie is basically an infant and he learns from who he’s around, and he spends all of his time with Die Antwoord. Deon stops in from time to time to either to check in on Chappie or to rescue Chappie, but for most of the movie, we just watch Chappie committing crimes. On more than one occasion, Chappie carjacks people at gunpoint. There is really no one likeable in this movie. Dev Patel comes the closest. When Sharlto Copley is playing one of the more nuanced characters in your movie, you have a problem. And the thing is, I’m not even saying Die Antwoord couldn’t have played some sort of role, but the lead role?
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
After the surprise and promise of “District 9,” this represents a further downward step for director Neill Blomkamp in the wake of the highly uneven “Elysium.”
Loïc Valceschini, Twitch
One cannot avoid feeling haggard after watching Chappie: it has great potential but sacrifices it for the sake of silly ideas, so much so that the result looks almost like an extended video clip of Die Antwoord rather than a Blomkamp film. Although the uneven performances — Blomkamp doesn’t seem to know how to direct his female idols — and the scrappy script are forgivable, it’s hard to overlook all the inappropriate gangstiness deployed here.
Eric Thurm, Wired
Not only is “Chappie” as close to a personal vision as it is possible for a big-budget movie about CG robots to be, it’s also (with the exception of Johnny Depp’s execrable “Transcendence”) one of the most radical pop culture representations of mind-body dualism in years.