Director Neill Blomkamp stunned audiences with his Academy Award-nominated debut District 9; his follow-up, Elysium, was a high-concept disappointment, and Chappie is even more confounding. It wastes the talent of the top-billed cast to instead focus on the visually striking but downright distracting Yolandi and Ninja. From the trailers and marketing materials, it might seem that Patel, Jackman, and Weaver are the main characters, but the leads are really Yolandi -- who sports tiny bangs and a platinum blond mullet -- and the foulmouthed Ninja, whose many tattoos include the titles of his band's various songs and albums. If Blomkamp, a professed Die Antwoord fan, wanted to do some stunt casting, he should have given the duo smaller roles, because neither of them can act. They spend the entire film giving stilted readings and either over or underdelivering lines. Even more bizarre is the fact that they (and the graffiti in their abandoned warehouse lair) routinely reference Die Antwoord.
Even worse than Ninja's and Visser's performances is the fact that no one elicits any sympathy. Unlike Copley's character in D9 or Matt Damon's in Elysium, no one in this movie will touch the audience with their troubles. Perhaps the robot Chappie could have won viewers over, but thanks to his criminal upbringing, he's basically a child-like thug who smashes and steals cars at gunpoint on his daddy's orders. It's not that the idea of criminals raising their own robot isn't compelling, but these are the wrong criminals, and Chappie is a confusing mix of super robot genius and tween thug. With more capable actors playing Chappie's criminal parents, perhaps the story would have been less off-putting. But as it is, Chappie seems more like a Die Antwoord video than a Blomkamp film.