By Jarrod Jones. Take a moment and picture this: Cool as Ice, starring Vanilla Ice, as Vanilla Ice. No thinly-veiled artifice here, no “Vanilla Ice stars as Johnny Van Owen.” The actual film Cool as Ice actually starring Vanilla Ice as himself. As insufferable as the film undoubtedly was, that extra sting of vanity would certainly send some of us over the edge. I’d apologize for even bringing the movie up, but there’s a point to be made here. So bear with me.
Now take a moment and consider Die Antwoord, the rambunctious, otherworldly South African rap-rave duo that stars in Neill Blomkamp’s CHAPPiE. Are you prepared for their particular brand of extra-terrestrial gangster posturing for nearly 120 minutes? Does that seem like it would become exhausting? Well, congratulations. Your aesthetic compass is still finely calibrated.
Because Ninja and Yolandi Visser’s performances are just as obnoxious, irritating, distracting, and above all else, as awful as anything Vanilla Ice could ever conjure, on film or anywhere else. And maybe it’s not fair to compare Die Antwoord to Ice, but I promise you, Ice never wore a sleeveless t-shirt with his face on it in any damn movie. Ever. Ninja, however, is spotted wearing two shirts adorned with both his and Yolandi’s mug during
CHAPPiE‘s run time. (And hang in there; it gets worse.)
Hey, guess what. Watch this:
Now mentally install a competently-realized robot into that video, and you’ve got CHAPPiE. And no, I am not exaggerating.
You know what’s the worst bit about all this? Their presence might not have been all that troublesome, had CHAPPiE‘s other major players – Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, and Hugh Jackman – taken the reins of Blomkamp’s film and run apace with the film’s real MVP, Sharlto Copley. (He’s the fella that made CHAPPiE, well, CHAPPiE.) The problem is, Blomkamp’s ambition to cast Die Antwoord in his latest sci-fi marvel (he is – or maybe he was – a fan) effectively eclipsed any hope that his iconic (and capable) cast would be able to bring this vanity project down to earth where it belonged. Instead, Blomkamp brought the Slumdog Millionaire, Wolverine, and Ellen fucking Ripley to play second, third, and fourth fiddle (respectively) to the hammy, tired-ass antics of Ninja and Yolandi.
There are places the film goes to that make the whole unfathomable journey moderately… well, not worthwhile, but reasonably entertaining: Dev Patel’s wide-eyed performance as Deon Wilson, an engineer with the ambition to create an artificial intelligence that can actually feel, injects enough heart into this farce to twist it into some kind of high-minded 21st century polemic on man’s reliance on technology, or if Sony had their way, a bonafide superhero story. (Their laughably out-of-touch U.S. movie poster boasts the tagline, “Humanity’s last hope isn’t human.” So there’s that.)
And let’s talk about CHAPPiE. Sharlto Copely’s role as the titular robot is the true highlight of the film, a wonder of dizzying technical achievement and performance capture that would be on par with the likes of Andy Serkis had Blomkamp’s screenplay (co-written by his wife, Terri Tatchell) never allowed the character to succumb to the, erm, “charms” of Die Antwoord. There are moments where you really pull for the silly, rabbit-eared robot (he keeps a doll fashioned after his “mother” Yolandi, which aw), but once Ninja gets his hooks into him, he’s a downright overwhelming asshole. (On top of an entire sequence built around CHAPPiE’s burgeoning proficiency at carjacking, he develops the same affectations as the thuggish dipshit.) You want to pull for CHAPPiE, but the film never lets it happen.
It’s important to touch on the actual plot of the film for a moment, because its nonsensical, nagging presence is the real problem behind this fiasco. The film drops us right in the midst of Johannesburg, South Africa in present day (we know it’s present day, because Anderson Cooper is still on CNN). Deon works for Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), a woman compromised by her own success from installing robots into the Johannesburg police department, effectively stamping down crime and all but eliminating the need for living, breathing human officers. Everything works just fine until it doesn’t.
Enter Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), a former soldier who has innovated MOOSE, a gigantic, mindless, Metal Gear-esque drone that Moore believes would be more practical against the criminals of Johannesburg than the wildly effective robots that already protect the city. His belief in MOOSE, an ultimately ineffective monstrosity, is nearly as laughable as the film’s depiction of his shrill, dogmatic Catholicism. (It’s through his dogma that he believes his robot – which is guided by a human hand – is more proper than the pre-programmed robots that stalk the city. That’s the only motivation we’re provided.) Jackman shows up simply to disappear.
It’s not like that matters anyway: Jackman and Weaver (and after a spell, Patel) fade into the periphery while the film centers on CHAPPiE’s ever-growing sentience amongst three colossal fuckwits (Jose Pablo Cantillo joins in on the buffoonery as Die Antwoord’s third). Patel’s character at least has the threat of death keeping him at bay; Blomkamp simply forgets that Weaver and Jackman exist until the film’s final act, and at that point it’s far, far too late for backtracking. The damage is done.
Too violent for children and too insipid for rational adults, Neill Blomkamp’s tonally bi-polar CHAPPiE will grind your gears nearly as often as it grinds its own. If anyone is starting to think that Blomkamp might be our generation’s answer to M. Night Shyamalan, the only person he has to blame is himself. Now let’s all sit back and watch him fuck up Alien worse than Ridley Scott. Maybe that will actually be fun.