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Chappie: Oddly Charming

Chappie; Neil Blomkamp, Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo


Neil Blomkamp loves robots and aliens more than human beings and maybe that’s why all his stories so far have had something to do with the man versus machine concept. After making his smashing debut in 2009 blockbuster “District 9”, Neil became a much sought after filmmaker. But the overnight success didn’t last long as his big-budget sci-fi drama “Elysium”, his second film turned out to be a disaster. And his latest outing “Chappie” feels like it’s been made from nuts and bolts of his earlier films and the pieces don’t fit the way they should.

In “Chappie”, he envisions the world where robots aid police force in bringing down crime rate. They don’t just aid, but even risk their lives to save their human counterparts. In one such operation, a droid gets severely broken beyond repair.

Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is the chief designer of the robots that have been successfully assisting the Johannesburg police department in fighting crime and his organization is proud of his work. But Deon has been secretly working on a program that will allow robots to have a mind of its own, behave and feel like humans with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). When he pitches the idea, his boss doesn’t approve, forcing him to illegally test it on the broken droid.

Deon’s ambitious plan goes for a toss when he is kidnapped by a group of gangsters, who plan to use him program a robot to help them pull off a big heist. Deon reprograms the broken droid with AI, and Chappie is born.

“Chappie” has very little story and whatever it has doesn’t quite engage us. But what’s charming about the film is Neil’s idea to treat humans and robots equally. When a robot can behave like us and has feelings of its own, thanks to AI, why should it still do whatever it’s instructed to do. With a mind of its own, a robot can differentiate between right and wrong but it needs to be shown how and that’s where human intervention is needed.

When Chappie is first brought back to life, it reacts to its surrounding with fear. Deon calls it a child and says it needs to be oriented. When you forget Chappie is a robot and treat it like a child, you’ll appreciate what Blomkomp tries to address here. While the gangsters want Chappie to help them pull off a heist, Deon wants it to learn ala humans. In a touching scene, Deon encourages Chappie to paint and read a book about a black sheep. Typically, a black sheep is a disreputable member of a family or group, but here it stands for someone unique and different. Chappie is the black sheep, and its uniqueness is symbolically highlighted by the orange coloured ear, which is quite evident even in the film’s posters.

But these wonderful moments don’t make up for the lack of story. And there’s plenty of awe-inspiring action in this insipid tale which like Neil’s earlier films are set in South Africa, Johannesburg; his birth place. For reasons nobody would understand, the director had cast two lead singers of the rave-rap group Die Antwoord in the lead roles, while Dev Patel tries his best to do justice as a nerd. Jackman was merely cast for the purpose to fill in the shoes of a bad man in such stories.

“Chappie” has lots of issues but it definitely isn’t a bad film. Agreed the concept is archaic, but there’s something oddly charming about it.

Three stars

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Taken 3: Neeson’s Desperate Attempt To Save A Predictable Story

Movie: Taken 3; Cast: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Sam Spruell, Dougray Scott, Dylan Bruno, Leland Orser and Jon Gries; Director: Olivier Megaton

taken 3

“Somebody murdered your mother in my house. I don’t know who did it or why, but I’ll find out,” Bryan Mills assures his daughter Kim. This forms the crux of “Taken 3”.

Unlike its previous two editions, “Taken 3” is a scaled up, reminiscent, an action-packed thriller whose premise is loosely based on the 1993-released Harrison Ford starrer “The Fugitive”. Set in Los Angeles, deadly ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) returns as a doting father to his now grown-up daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). He soon learns from his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), who is married to a multi-businessman Stuart (Dougray Scott), that she still fantasises about him and is considering a reconciliation. But then their dreams are short-lived when Lenore gets brutally murdered and Bryan is framed for her death.

What makes this film a run-of-the-mill affair is the plot and screenplay written by Luc Besson and his long standing associate Robert Mark Kamen. The turn of events as well as the characterisation is predictable and lackadaisical. There are a couple of ‘plot-holes’ and unconvincing scenes that make the narrative appear weak. Also that is also why the actors fail to deliver.

The ageing Liam Neeson, though charming, does not elevate his character of the anguished superhero. His expressions are perfunctory, actions mechanical and speech on a low-note hollow, sounds superficial at times. On the other hand, Forest Whitaker is lively as the bagel-munching detective Frank Dotzler, who is in awe of Bryan’s impressive skills. He seems silly while trying to caricature a stereotype detective and is seriously, not funny at all.

Dougray Scott, who has replaced Xander Berkeley from the earlier edition and Sam Spruell, who plays the Russian Gangster Oleg Malankov are the new entrants. They are quite noticeable among the supporting cast as there is not much complexity in the character development.

Visually, the plethora of impressive day and night aerial shots, gives the film a superior feel. But overall, with jerky camera moments, poor lighting to capture the atmospheric tension cinematographer, Eric Kress’s work is shifty and jarring. This, combined with super quick jump-cuts, mars the viewing experience, especially during the dramatic over-the-top action and chase scenes.

The background score is perfect except for a random Hindi song in one of the scenes. That score is unwarranted to the script and sounds illogical in the narrative. With the inclusion of this number, it is but obvious that director Olivier Megaton along with his producers, is trying to please a global audience and in the bargain, have delivered a mediocre kitsch.

Two stars

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