Sunday, June 14, 2015

Video review: "Chappie"

It’s fairly common for a young filmmaker to have an incredible debut film and then stumble in subsequent outings. Perhaps there’s a lot of pressure on them to replicate their early success. Often they recover with better movies.

But then there are others who keep cranking out underwhelming films, one after another. How long does it go before you ask, “Did they only have one good movie in them?”

I’m starting to ask that about Neill Blomkamp, the writer/director of the terrific “District 9,” in which alien refugees settle on Earth and become second-class citizens. He followed that up with the confusing “Elysium,” and now the tonally all-over-the-place “Chappie.” It’s the story of a robot that develops sentience, and gets ill-used by the humans around him.

Sharlto Copley provides the voice and motion capture for Chappie, a police robot in a future South Africa where society is divided between the haves and the have-less. It’s a wonderful creation, lacking traditional eyes but with insect-like antennae. Chappie is child-like and hesitant, but quickly begins to emulate the personalities he encounters -- for ill or good.

Dev Patel plays the benevolent scientist who creates Chappie and mentors him. Hugh Jackman is a hot-tempered rival who wants to see him turned into junk and replaced with his own lumbering war machine.

Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser -- a real-life rap music duo whose names and identities overlap with those of their characters -- are a pair of low-life criminals who sort of adopt Chappie in to their little outlaw family. Soon the robot is wearing gold chains, carrying a gun and strutting around like a gangsta.

Weird, occasionally touching, “Chappie” may represent Blomkamp’s last chance.

He seems to have intriguing ideas about how technology tends to alienate humans from one another. But he needs a coherent story to build around those themes, and the last two times out of the gate he’s lacked that.

The bonus features are pretty good, though you’ll have to splurge for the Blu-ray edition to get them. The DVD comes only with a single featurette, an interview with the three main actors.

The blu-ray contains eight more featurettes covering various aspects of the production, including casting, visual effects, real-life robotics and so on. There’s also an alternate ending, one extended scene and a photo gallery.



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