The sun is shining, the temperature is rising, the birds are chirping. It must be Dev Patel Season.
You may remember Dev Patel as lanky, likable dreamer Neal Sampat from The Newsroom. Or maybe you remember Dev Patel as lanky, likable dreamer Jamal from Slumdog Millionaire. Or perhaps you remember Dev Patel as lanky, likable dreamer Sonny from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (If you’re really cool, you remember Dev Patel as homophobic horny Anwar from UK tv show Skins). But actors must broaden their roles as they grow older, so this weekend brought us not one but two new movies featuring Dev Patel. In Chappie, Dev Patel plays lanky, likable dreamer Deon Wilson, and he returns as lanky, likable dreamer Sonny in the sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
In the not-too-distant future, South Africa will be patrolled by robotic police – robocops, so to speak. The robocops are manufactured by the Tyrell Tetravaal Corporation, a quasi-evil corporation run by Sigourney Weaver. Her underlings include bearded badass Hugh Jackman, the developer of the unsuccessful Moose robot, and lanky, likable dreamer Dev Patel. Patel has developed the successful Scout robots, but he is much more interested in experimenting with Artificial Intelligence. All hell breaks loose when he succeeds in creating a program for a sentient robot. Patel is quickly kidnapped by Ninja and Yolandi from South African rap duo Die Antwoord, who steal the robot, and pretty much the whole movie.
There is some heavy stuff in here about the nature of consciousness, about the dangers of bad parenting, about the betrayal of the innocent, but mostly there are chase scenes and explosions and stuff. Director Neill Blomkamp managed to keep the balance between the deep thoughts and the chase scenes much better in District 9 (2009), but much worse in Elysium (2013), which tilted too heavily towards the action sequences. Sadly, robot Chappie just isn’t as much fun as the alien ‘prawns’ of District 9 – he’s more a throwback to the naïf outsiders-in-distress of 1980’s cinema – think E.T. (1982), D.A.R.Y.L. (1985), and Short Circuit (1986).
Verdict: Dev Patel doesn’t really have much to do here, and the robot is a bit of a wanker, but worth seeing for action movie fun, Die Antwoord’s OTT performances, and some top-notch production design.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The first movie sounded like it would be awful – a whole bunch of really old people go to India to die. But fortunately the film was made by British people and not Americans, so the oldsters never become break-dancers, fly a rocket, rob a bank, or travel to Las Vegas. Instead, they confront their mortality with varying degrees of grace and try to muddle through, Brit style. Various Dames trudge around, Bill Nighy does his hemming and hawing thing, and in the background lanky, likable dreamer Dev Patel tries to run a hotel and woo the girl.
Somehow, the movie worked – the script was clever, the ensemble cast was top-notch, the scenery was good. It was a perfect movie to watch with your mom (or grandma) on a rainy day. But unfortunately they made a sequel.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn’t feel like the second out of two movies – it’s more like watching episodes 5 and 6 of a series that has been on HBO for five seasons. The whole thing feels forced – there’s a new character that doesn’t really belong (Richard Gere?!), an American road trip for the trailer, a big wedding scene for sweeps week, and a subplot involving hotel inspectors that feels like a leftover gag from an episode of Fawlty Towers. The movie skips aimlessly from character to character, and never really satisfies. The Judi Dench/Bill Nighy romance takes forever to resolve, and without her racism and curmudgeonliness Maggie Smith’s character isn’t all that interesting. At least Dev Patel has more to do this time around – he is frantic about the Big Hotel Deal, The Romantic Rival, and less so about his upcoming nuptuals.
He goes full bipolar here, but director John Madden (the football guy?) lets him off the hook by the end.
Verdict: Do not go see this movie. Wait for it to come to cable. Or wait to see Patel’s next movie, The Man Who Knew Infinity, about an Indian math genius who comes to Cambridge University. Will he be lanky and likable? I bet he will be.