A film review by Craig J. Koban March 24, 2010
2010, R, 105 mins.
2010, R, 105 mins.
Remy: Jude Law / Jake: Forest Whitaker / Frank: Liev
Schreiber / Beth: Alice Braga / Carol: Carice van Houten / Peter:
Chandler Canterbury / Ray: Joe Pingue
The new sci-fi action thriller REPO MEN – not at all to be confused with the great Alex Cox 1984 cult film REPO MAN or even the critically maligned 2008 rock musical REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA – is a seemingly clever effort that has a nifty, intriguing, and unique premise that is…oh…only nifty, intriguing and unique for about five minutes, at which time it fails to hold up under modest scrutiny.
The trailers for
REPO MEN set it up nicely and easily garnered my attention, but to early
on in the film itself I found myself plagued with questions regarding the
simple logic of its premise. Certainly,
many sci-fi films are so heavy of pure escapism that they make you forget
their rational loopholes, but in REPO MEN I found that I could not
thoroughly invest in its story because I was questioning its foundations
at nearly every waking moment. All
of the glossy, CGI visual effects and hyper kinetic action sequences are
for naught when the overall story is DOA.
the premise, which is based on Eric Garcia’s 2009 novel THE REPOSSESSION
MAMBO: In a non-specific period in the future (the film never bothers to
explain just how far forward we are) there is a greedy and omnipotent
corporation ubiquitously called The Union that provides consumers with
highly beneficial products. They sell…mechanical organs…of all kinds.
You name it. Here’s
the problem: President Obama’s proposed health care system overhaul has
apparently not taken effect in this future, hence, no one has
adequate insurance to cover the purchase of such life saving organs.
The other issue is that these organs cost as a quarter of a million
dollars. Of course, there are
people that clearly cannot afford such extravagant prices, but The Union
has unscrupulous commission salesmen that claim that, no worries, they
will have a credit/financial plan that will suit their budgetary needs.
The interest on such “generous” loans is 20 per cent.
future, the recent economic recession has clearly never occurred its past,
which precluded uncaring mortgage lenders giving funds to people that
could not afford the loans that ultimately brought the economic world to a
standstill. The people in the
future are so dimwitted that they never once consult the fine print as to
the interest and repayment penalties of their organ loans, and they sure
as heck are not made aware of the ultimate penalty for late
payment: If consumers fail to pay on time, The Union sends out specialized
Repo Men that track down the late payers, taze them into unconsciousness,
and then slice their unconscious bodies open to remove the mechanical
devices keeping them alive. This type of repossession is, for all
intents and purposes, fatal.
According to the film, the number of people that fail to make
payments are so disastrously high that The Union needs a squadron of Repo
Men to hunt these people down. Such a staggering number of deadbeat customers can’t be
good for their bottom end. Also,
I never quite understood why Repo Men would not just shoot these people
dead on the spot and let doctors do all of the horrific work thereafter. I mean, you zap the hapless victims out cold, remove the
organs that are keeping them alive, which subsequently leaves them dead
anyways…so why knock them unconscious if you plan is to eventually kill
them? Also, which the
advancement in technology in this future world, wouldn’t it make
better business sense to simply have fail safe devices on every organ that
can remotely and electronically shut the organ off if the person harboring
it fails to pay? This would
save The Union oodles of money that they would not have to pay the bounty
hunting Repo Men. Lastly, if
people knew the logical outcome of not paying their Union bills on time,
would anyone ever sign the dotted line?
this film could have – and I emphasize could have – been what
many great sci-fi films are: socio-political parables that use futuristic
and fantastical settings to pontificate on modern day dilemmas. REPO MEN, if handled appropriately, could have
been a subversive dystopian satire about the insufferable health care
system woes that permeate the US headlines today as well as commenting on
the subprime-lending debacle that recently destabilized the country.
The film could have attained a biting and scathing sense of
the capitalist macabre, but its director, Miguel Sapochnik seems far less
interested in dealing with compelling thematic material and instead feels
more compelled to create a dizzyingly gory and mindlessly one-note chase
thriller. There are times when
the grotesquely violent, slice and dice bloodletting here gets so
ludicrously in the way that it all but subverts the potential of its
yet is that we have A-list talent that let themselves trudge through a
forgettable and disposable effort like this.
Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker star as Remy and Jake respectively,
two Repo Men that work for the Union and love their job with a ravenous
passion. Remy’s wife
(Caprice van Houten) would rather see her husband behind a desk in sales
(can you blame her?), seeing as it’s “safer” work for a family man,
but Jake can’t see his buddy in a suit and tie selling organs all day
long. Neither can Remy’s
boss, Frank (Live Schreiber, fluently and delightfully slimy and
disreputable, in a sleazy used car salesmen kind of way), who heads up the
Union’s sales team and Repo division.
Nonetheless, Remy decides to call it quits, but on his last mission
he critically injures himself so badly that, yup, he is outfitted with the
latest Union artificial heart with a cost far above his pay grade.
Worse yet is that Remy develops a “change of heart” (ha...get
it?) and realizes that being a Repo Man is cruel and vicious work.
Seeing that he does not want to become like the countless victims
he once stalked, Remy goes on the run with a fellow organ fugitive (Alice
Braga) and they not only try to elude capture (and death), but also try to
find a way to shut down the Union for good.
REPO MEN’s plot sounds vaguely like LOGAN’S RUN, then you are not
alone. The familiarity of the
narrative structure notwithstanding, the makers of REPO MEN do manage to
create a fairly glossy and slick looking techno future that looks like a
neon and brightly lit metropolis ala BLADE
skyscrapers soar up to the heavens, billboards the size of football fields
and elevated trains blare up the skyline, all creating a good looking, but
inconsistently realized vision of the future.
By inconsistent I mean that the architecture of the city
looks a hundred years ahead, but the cars, computers, cell phones, and
TVs, for example, look very much of today.
much as the film is nice to look at, everything else around its
artifice unavoidable falls flat. One
of the big dilemmas of the film is its tone, which veers wickedly all over
the place: REPO MEN suffers
from what I like to all cinematic multiple personality disorder:
There are times where it not only feels cobbled together from the finer
elements of other better genre films, but it also seems to have no clue as
to what tone its wants to maintain. Sometimes
it’s ghoulishly funny, other times solemn; sometimes it feels
outlandishly silly and inane and other times slyly supplicated and smart.
I think that if the film maintained an unfailing level of, say, a
tongue-in-cheek black comedy than it would have been all the more durable.
Unfortunately, REPO MEN is too schizophrenic for its own good.
I simply never knew when to laugh with or at it and
whether it knew when it should be taken itself seriously or not.
of course, there is the film’s stomach churning and blood curdling
mayhem, and it's kind of sad to see gifted actors like Law and Whitaker
reduced to beefy purveyors of wanton carnage. This is especially
true near the film’s obligatory action packed conclusion where the
unusually ripped Law all but lashes, stabs, impales, and disembowels his
way through a series of Union stiffs while on his way to the company’s
mainframe in hopes of shutting it down.
The violence here is so unrelentingly and preposterously
over-the-top that you have to remind yourself that you are not watching a
ghastly cartoon. Then there
are other moments of head-shaking disbelief, like a late-breaking scene
when Remy and Alice are forced to repossess their own organs to be granted
access to the Union’s network. Now,
wouldn’t that kill them, you ask?
No, because they don’t actually take out their organs, but just
shove bar code scanners deep into their body cavities to be able to wand
the organs’ UPCs into the databanks. Very stupid...and very icky.
are other issues with the film, like a very last minute twist ending that
is not nearly as clever and twisted as it thinks it is, especially if you
pay close attention to a dialogue passage in the film when one character
discusses a new “service” provided by the Union for people suffering
from a specific injury. I did
like the macho posturing and smug charisma of Law and Whitaker here, but
they are resoundingly dependable actors that are better than this
material. Schreiber is more than serviceable here, playing a corporate
stooge with that oozes lecherous charm from the get go.
Regrettably, the film lets its unpleasantly sadistic and
perfunctory action lead the way, which consequently leaves very little
room for story and character focus. And,
yes, the futuristic premise of organ repossession, under the right
filmmaker, could have dug deeper and spoke towards modern-day
concerns about health care and money lending, but that would have been the
smart way out. REPO MEN lets
its monotonous thrills repossess one asset of all memorable sci-fi