“Chappie” was everything that I didn’t think it would be. I truly respect the creative genius of director Neill Blomkamp, and he dares to challenge your senses even when his camera occasionally wanders down the cinematic version of a dead-end alley.
The film takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2016. Police begin to use robots to help discourage crime on the streets, and it seems to be working. However, history has proven that robots have trouble behaving themselves.
The robots have been created by a genius scientist/engineer working for a company run by Michelle Bradley, played by Sigourney Weaver. The young scientist, Deon Wilson, is played by the talented Dev Patel, and he defies Bradley’s instructions as he tries to develop a robot with the intellectual capacity of a human being.
The title of this film is the name of Wilson’s creation, a robot that resembles the young kid in Steven Spielberg’s classic “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001). However, just as Spielberg’s scientifically engineered boy had trouble finding a home in the real world, Chappie is also left to roam as he seeks meaning in his cruel surroundings.
The strength and weakness of this film flows from the fact that Chappie finds a family with three violent, tattooed street gangsters. Though viciously criticized by some reviewers, Chappie becomes a metaphor for the many teenagers in American cities who lose their way as they identify with the streets. Like them, Chappie soon is led down a path that threatens his existence.
While there is nothing to love about Chappie’s demented role models, you start to form a bond with them despite hating yourself for doing so. Two of the villains, Ninja and Yolandi, are actually South African gangsta rappers whose multiple body tattoos are the real thing. In addition, Chappie begins to call Yolandi “Mommy” as she develops an attachment to him that transcends her taste for underworld violence.
Ironically, the only character in the film that you hate from beginning to end is played by the great Hugh Jackman. Working for the same company as Patel, he seeks to have his own personally designed gigantic robot, going by the name of Moose, employed by the local government. He and Wilson are destined to tangle, and it isn’t pretty.
Blomkamp has directed two prior intriguing films, “District 9” (2009) and “Elysium” (2013). “District 9” was wildly entertaining, and you watched a caring human doctor mutate into an alien as he tried to help other world visitors trapped in their apartheid-like slum in South Africa. “Chappie” touches some of the same themes, although it falls short of capturing the emotional angst of Blomkamp’s first film.
It is impossible to give the plot away, as you have to stay on top of this film to have any chance of understanding it. Villains become good guys while heroes become villains, though I openly admit to liking a film that I hesitate to recommend.
“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
Though far from a great movie, director John Madden’s “Marigold” sequel avoids being condemned to the graveyard being inhabited by many similar films. Powered by the talents of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, it succeeds where regrettable films like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” (2015) and “Taken 3” (to infinity) have failed.
While most of the original cast members returned, the film truly misses Tom Wilkinson, whose character died on screen in the original movie. He provided the story with some meaningful heart and soul, and the sequel wasn’t able to find a way to replace him.
Additionally, the movie’s biggest drawback is that it reduces Dev Patel’s role as Sonny Kapoor to a level that proves to be irritating beyond words. He is an extraordinarily fine actor, as he displayed in the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008). However, in this sequel he has been transformed into little more than a whiny, sniveling eccentric, and even his heartwarming performance at the conclusion of the film fails to save him.
The loose plot centers on Kapoor’s attempt to buy a second hotel, which defines the title of this movie. However, I must admit that the film proved to be rather enjoyable because of both its magnificent scenery (much of which is filmed on location in India), and its concentration on finding meaning in life as you reach your “golden years.” Though Richard Gere’s appearance is little more than serving as eye candy for middle-aged women, he surprisingly adds a bit of spark that helps the film succeed.
As you watch actors who are over the age of 70, you are reminded that aging gracefully requires seeking out adventure where you never quit on experimenting with available activities. As someone on the downside of life’s bell curve, I understand that life means going down fighting to the very end.
As the legendary comedian Carl Reiner recently said, “Every morning I grab the newspaper and read the obituaries. If I’m not in it, I make myself some breakfast.” Smart advice.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.