Thursday, March 18, 2010
Review: "Repo Men"
What a steaming pile of a movie.
Part sci-fi fable, part blood-spurting action film, "Repo Men" is a movie with a lot of ideas but no concept how to weave them together. It veers wildly from futuristic satire to knife fights to anti-capitalist screed, with a little love story and buddy-cop stuff thrown into the blender.
Here's the setup: Jude Law and Forest Whitaker are Remy and Jake, lifelong pals who traded the soldier life for repossessing artificial organs from people behind on their payments. And it's not some genteel transaction: They zap their targets with electrical darts, slice them open and tear out the mechanical liver, kidney, lungs, whatever -- even if it means death, and it usually does.
Now, you might think that it's hard to like a couple of characters who gleefully carve up other people for a commission. And you'd be right. The repo men -- who are for some reason marked with a special neck tattoo -- are essentially licensed thugs, not so much trampling on civil liberties as acting as if they didn't exist.
The film is set in a vague near future, where cityscapes teem with video billboards and vertical overdevelopment a la "Blade Runner" -- and yet Remy's car looks suspiciously like a 2010 Subaru with a few bolt-ons.
It's the sort of universe where miraculous "Artiforgs" are marketed to the masses, but firearms seem to be a forgotten technology: Jake and Remy rarely encounter resistance any stiffer than a switchblade.
Remy's wife (Carice van Houten) wants him to give up the repo life and go into organ sales instead -- it's still the same nasty business, but hey, at least now he can work 9-to-5.
His life gets turned upside down when a job reclaiming a heart from a famous jazz musician goes bad, and Remy's left with his own artificial ticker. Back on the job he discovers his taste for killing strangers has ebbed -- a real change of heart, get it? -- and soon he's behind on his payments.
It's not long before the creepy boss (Liev Schreiber) taps Jake to go after Remy. On the run, he teams up with a nightclub singer (Alice Braga) who has more replacement parts than she can remember.
My objections to this film are many, but here's the ones I can think up right now:
· Why is it that so many people need new organs? They're so numerous they band together into small armies to hide out from repo men. Is there something in the future water making everyone rot on the insides?
· Wouldn't you think if a company was sending out goons to rip people open because they can't make their payments, the media would be reporting on it, day in and day out?
· All the female roles seem to be played by actresses with indistinct, hard-to-place accents that make it very difficult to understand their dialogue.
· Remy is presented as a dumb, brutish guy: There's even a flashback to his Army days, where he's assigned tank duty because of his "small brain and big skull." Yet at one point in the movie, he sits down and writes an entire book about his experiences in the repo biz.
"Repo Men" is based on a novel by Eric Garcia, who co-wrote the screenplay with TV vet Garrett Lerner, and was directed by Miguel Sapochnik, his first feature film. Normally I try to be charitable to novices, but based on this borderline-unwatchable mess, their nascent careers should be recalled.