(2015) * R
120 min. Sony Pictures. Director: Neill Blomkamp. Cast: Hugh Jackman, Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver.

/content/films/4800/1.jpgEven before I was done watching Neill Blomkamp's latest science-fictioner actioner Chappie, my mind had drifted to how audiences would react to its doofus-y go-for-broke, ill-advised pastiche of so many better science-fiction stories. Most audiences, I reckoned, would find Chappie almost as annoying as I did (critics' annoyances are, of course, multiplied by how many lame movies we sit through), but, more importantly, I fervently hoped that some particularly annoyed soul would create a "Slapheads Yell 'Chappie'!" supercut—featuring every time the titular robot's so-cute-it's-repulsive name is uttered (which is, um, a lot)—to refine the movie to its purest form of annoyance. As of this writing, internet, you disappoint me.

Perhaps that's a tad harsh, but count me among the Neill Blomkamp detractors. I like the idea of Blomkamp—a science-fiction enthusiast committed to original material—but the execution (in films like Elysium and, yes, even the overrated District 9) leaves much to be desired. And yet, the most important commodity in Hollywood these days is just such a fella as Blomkamp, an up-and-coming (read hungry and affordable), budget-trustworthy, genre-happy filmmaker studios can lure onto franchise reboots and those superhero movies currently multiplying like bunnies. Blomkamp's next project? An Alien reboot bringing Sigourney Weaver back into the fold. Maybe we'll get lucky, and Blomkamp won't try to write the thing (like District 9, Chappie is co-written by the director and his wife Terri Tatchell).

Launching itself District 9-style, Chappie begins with mock news footage of a futuristic Johannesburg, South Africa (Blomkamp's homeland). Crime management has been contracted out to the robotics company Tetravaal, whose CEO Michelle Bradley (hey! Sigourney Weaver! ohhh, she has nothing interesting to do...) favors the humanoid police robots of lead designer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) and regularly takes a crappie on the work of weapons designer and former solider Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman). The mulleted Moore stews over how no one appreciates his hulking, flying, heavy-artillery MOOSE (perhaps because they can see clearly, as we can, that the design was ripped off from Robocop).

Meanwhile, Deon continues to work on a full-fledged artificial intelligence, which he perfects just before being kidnapped by some gangsters who had the brainstorm to hack a police robot to work for their side as "the illest gangster on the block." Yolandi Visser and Ninja of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord play gangsters Yolandi and Ninja, who become de facto nurturing mom and abusive dad to the robot they dub "Chappie," with Deon filling the role of Frankensteinian creator/God to this being with a potentially smart but dangerously malleable infant mind. In a conceit that threatens to be fascinating, moving, or even moderately convincing—but strikes out on all counts—Chappie slowly "matures" as he struggles under the competing influences of the suddenly maternal-instinctive Yolandi, criminally exploitative Ninja, and well-intentioned but feckless Deon.

As with his previous work, Blomkamp has a fine seed in concept but lacks the green thumb to bring it to palatable fruition. Chappie implicitly critiques unprepared parents having a kid "because they can" (Visser and Ninja resemble reckless teen parents, and in a presumably intentional character flaw, mad-scientist Deon lacks any compelling reason to create the technology in the first place) and without considering the enormous personal and social responsibilities therein. Unfortunately, despite potential for a meaty allegory, Chappie betrays the attention span of a puppy, ever panting off in search of noisy action sequences. Almost as damaging is the movie's slippery tone, teasing silly but thuddingly unfunny comedy but mostly living in breathless melodrama or would-be-thriller tension: had Blomkamp chosen and cultivated one approach, he might have had something lively on the order of Robocop (wicked satire), Frankenstein (Romantic allegory) or, more humbly, say, Total Recall (rollicking sci-fi actioner) instead of a messy stillbirth.

Naturally, Blomkamp buddy Sharlto Copley provides the body (via mo-cap technology) and voice of Chappie, conjuring a Jar Jar Binks-level-annoying character in the process. I suppose it's plausible that an artificially intelligent robot could be bad-influenced into a life of crime and obnoxious bling, but Chappie never gets us to care about or even laugh along with its story, but rather forces us to recoil from the cartoonish performances of Copley, Visser and Ninja (not to mention Patel, who never met an eye-popping expression he didn't like); the repetitive barrages of gunfire and explosions; and an increasingly implausible plot. Design choices including an electronic score that finds Hans Zimmer quoting his own work with Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) and Vangelis's sound from '80s genre films (Blade Runner) don't help to dispel the impression that Chappie is Frankenstein's-monstrously stitched together from heartier tales of yore.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 6/16/2015

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony gives Chappie a strong Blu-ray special edition in its home-video debut. Billed as "Mastered in 4K," this 1080p Blu-ray features a typically gorgeous Sony transfer that wholly maximizes the source material for its presentation in this format. Colors are precisely calibrated and searingly rich, contrast and black level perfectly tuned, and crystal-clear detail sharp as a pin, in spite of the wildly careening camera moves and busy, fast-paced action. Just as the image never wavers, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix delivers assaultive audio that action fans will grin ear-to-ear over. All aspects of the mix impress, from dialogue prioritization to placement of effects in the surrounds to LFE potency and music that thunders and pulses with dynamic range.

Bonus features include an "Alternate Ending" (5:15, HD) and "Extended Scene: Very Bad Men" (1:30, HD).

The featurette "From Tetra Vaal to Chappie" (7:30, HD) examines the origins and development of the world of the film, the characters (especially the robotic designs), and the plot.

"Jozi: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting" (15:03, HD) gives Johannesburg its behind-the-scenes close-up by looking at locations, climate, and the way the real city plays its futuristic self in the film.

"Chappie: The Streetwise Professor" (9:31, HD) focuses on the leading character, director Neill Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell's view of him, and the approach of actor Sharlto Copley.

"We Are Tetravaal" (5:53, HD) focuses in on the Tetravaal staff, as played by Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, and Sigourney Weaver, while "Keep it Gangster" (7:07, HD) does similar honors for the characters of Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika.

The self-explanatory "Rogue Robot: Deconstructing the Stunts and Special Effects" (14:21, HD) looks behind the scenes at the stunts and special effects, some of which were practically perpetrated and captured in-camera.

"Arms Race: The Weapons and Robots" (6:25, HD) zooms in on the designs and props of the film's firepower.

"Bringing Chappie to Life: The Visual Effects" (8:01, HD) deals with the performance-capture techniques that took the character from an actor's movements to a digitized model.

"The Reality of Robotics" (5:34, HD): considers the possibilities of artificial intelligence, in comparison and contrast to the film.

Lastly, The Art of Chappie Gallery (HD) gathers pre-production and production art.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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