Chappie **

Chappie marks another low point in District 9 director Neill Blomkamp's slumping career

Is it worth $10? No

When "District 9" hit theaters in 2009, the world was introduced to a slush of sci-fi quirk and grit that became director Neill Blomkamp's signature style. That style, paired with an engaging narrative that served as a parable for South African apartheid, made for love at first sight. Blomkamp's debut feature was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Then he cursed us with "Elysium" in 2011, and it was cheeseball sci-fi at its worst.

Now the world looks to "Chappie" for a clearer picture on the type of filmmaker that Blomkamp is going to be. The good news is that the gritty and endearing style that we saw in "District 9" is back. The bad news is that Blomkamp may be out of interesting ways to use this style.

Yes, it's safe to say that, when the time comes for the great debate over whether or not mankind should endow robots with sentience, neither side will point to "Chappie" to support their case. This is because the film fails to make any coherent point on the subject it tackles so ambitiously.

"Chappie" follows Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), the man behind the programming of the new droid police force in Johannesburg. Wilson's ultimate goal is to create a sentient droid, but just as he is about to see his vision through, he is kidnapped by the unbearably irritating Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones) and Yolani (Yolani Visser). This is where Chappie (Sharlto Copley) is introduced, as Wilson is forced to hand his creation over to be raised by thugs. It should also be mentioned that Hugh Jackman and Sigorney Weaver play roles in this movie, though the existence of their characters rarely, if ever, assists in moving the plot forward.

Chappie himself may be as annoying and gimmicky a character as Jar Jar Binks was so many years ago, but constantly being on the same screen as much more maddening characters gives the droid a big boost. It should also be noted that the bot works due to an extremely charismatic motion-capture performance from Copley. You will find yourself rooting for Chappie, and against his supporting cast, early and often, as the story is kept afloat by Chappie's journey from the naïveté of a child to the bitter cynicism of an overly self-aware being.

Though Blomkamp has failed to refresh his reputation with "Chappie," he does manage to provide the audience with some refreshing grit. The return to South Africa feels right and the soundtrack is good for a bit of eccentricity. That's not to say that the film does not expose some questionable stylistic choices, most noticeably in that Blomkamp seems to believe that 2016 will be the year of the mullet.

Unfortunately, "Chappie" does not do much to reverse the downward spiral that Blomkamp embarked on with "Elysium." While the themes and visuals felt like a return to his roots, the narrative wears too many hats. Horrible characters and a lazy ending seals "Chappie" as an unfortunate step backwards for the young and talented director. 

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