Repo Men (2010) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language, some sexuality, and nudity
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga, Carice van Houten, Chandler Canterbury, John Leguizamo, RZA
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Screenplay: Eric Garcia, Garrett Lerner (based on the book, "The Repossession Mambo" by Eric Garcia)
Science fiction films can often ride a clever hook to success, even if the plot that spins off from that hook is routine. However, there are times when that hook only seems clever until you think about the unlikelihood that such circumstances could or would ever exist. Such is the case with Repo Men, which is built on the notion that human beings could receive synthetic parts to replace their own failing organic organs, but at such an exorbitant price that practically no one can afford it without paying for it on installment credit at the highest of interest rates. The corporation which makes these devices, The Union (apparently a monopoly), has a goon squad of skilled "repo men" to collect their property back should the recipients not be able to make a payment within the 90-day grace period afforded them. The effect of such a collection effectively kills the deadbeats, as they could not survive without the organ -- or the gruesomely indelicate methods employed by the repos.
It's ostensibly a nifty idea, except for the fact that any corporation that manufactures such sophisticated devices as the organs, the scanners that detect overdue accounts, and hi-tech equipment to produce and dispose of such devices, could just as easily just put in a built-in shut-down mechanism that renders the organ inoperative when the patients are overdue. If there's a reason they don't, it's never adequately explained.
The movie as it stands is stars Jude Law (Sleuth, My Blueberry Nights) as Remy, one of the repo men, and possibly the best of his kind, or so his boss, Union head Frank (Schreiber, The Painted Veil), and his skilled but less conscientious partner Jake (Whitaker, Vantage Point), seems to think. Remy's wife (Van Houten, Valkyrie) threatens to leave him with their child in tow if he can't get out of the slice-n-dice world of repo, and he's about to do just that when calamity strikes and Remy ends up a client with an artificial heart of his own. But the payments on a heart are exorbitant, and nothing he tries will pay the bills like the repo work, so he's back in action. Yet, while his heart is shiny and new, he no longer has the stomach for the task, and his lack of repossessions means he can't pay his bills, enough to have to take his case on the lam to survive.
Adapted from co-screenwriter Eric Garcia's novel, "The Repossession Mambo," (Garcia also wrote the book that Matchstick Men is based on) though it plays most of the way as a grislier version of Blade Runner. In addition to the futuristic setting, sense of style, and some strikingly similar plot points, both films have thematic commentary on corporations, though Repo Men clearly paints a much more cynical portrait as health care in the future has become all about making a profit and in no way sees itself as helping people's health interests first. If people can't pay, they don't deserve to live. This is heady stuff, and the current trend of health industry finally run amok is an excellent theme on which to build a satirical science fiction film on, but one gets the sense that the message of the Garcia book wasn't as much fun for first-time feature director Miguel Sapochnik to wrap his story around so much as the gratuitously graphic violence that permeates nearly every scene of confrontation.
Repo Men has a solid cast of actors, none of which, save perhaps Alice Braga (Blindness, I Am Legend), seems to really inspire excitement in their respective roles. A B-Movie premise needs more eclectic character actors, and these star thespians play up their roles as if they're making a big-time production, which it is, perhaps to its overall detriment. Like many B-movies, the tongue-in-cheek tone is there, but it's buried under layers of exceedingly gruesome levels of violence so pervasively and abunadntly graphic, you'll likely be inured to it within the first few minutes . Hint to future filmmakers: save the nastiest disemboweling and decapitations for the key moments of the film rather than make every death a money shot and you'll likely be able to generate actual shock when the film needs that extra punch.
Repo Men does occasionally hit a stride now and then, but stumbles back into cliché action sequences, each progressively lengthier and less subdued than the last. Attempts at a few twists in the plot feel like unnatural gimmicks more so than revelations, and one can't help but wonder how the same story could have been told much better with less of an eye at broadly commercial visual appeal and half-hearted attempts to be snarky just for the sake of it. The makers of the film are caught trying to be a dumb action b-movie romp and clever A-list science fiction at the same time, but manage to stall out somewhere in between, achieving success at attaining neither. The deft hand of Paul Verhoeven in his prime (RoboCop, Total Recall) could have probably would have made a genre masterpiece out of the story, but I suppose there are only so many talented, visionary directors willing to take a chance on big budget adult-oriented science fiction anymore. The makers of Repo Men are content to steal its parts whenever they can, replacing genuine heart and guts with synthetic replicas that do the job the body of work requires but never quite enough to qualify as being "alive".
©2010 Vince Leo