A movie can coast a long way on a strong central concept alone; if an idea is (at least somewhat) fresh and original, it’s easy to forgive a film its minor shortcomings in favor of appreciating the things it gets right. Add a strong cast to that mix, and your odds of creating something that can turn both heads and a profit increase exponentially. With an Oscar winner, a two-time Oscar nominee, and a Golden Globe nominee comprising its central cast, Repo Men has all the star power of an A-list awards contender crammed into a gory B-grade romp. It hooks us with cheeky humor, oddball character chemistry, and a Twilight Zone-style twist early on, then blows our goodwill as it steadily devolves into a shameless collage of stolen ideas topped off by an unintentionally hilarious climax. When your entire audience is compulsively laughing at a scene that’s clearly designed to pack a heavy dramatic punch, it’s a hard lesson in intention of purpose versus reality of execution.
In the not too distant future, organ failure has become easier to cure than the common cold. Thanks to The Union, heart disease victims can get a new ticker with no hassle, and heavy drinkers can have a new liver to soak in hard liquor. But nothing’s free in life, and should you happen to fall behind on your payments, guys like Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) will appear in your home one dark night, and take that organ right back -- leaving you to die slowly in a rapidly expanding pool of your own blood. When a job goes bad and Remy is outfitted with The Union’s latest model artificial heart, he starts to develop a conscience about his brutal line of work. Before long, Remy’s fallen behind on payments, and his boss, Frank (Liev Schreiber), selects one of his former co-workers to get the pumper back. Now Remy is on the run, and drug-addicted nightclub chanteuse Beth (Alice Braga) is along for the ride. If they can just outsmart The Union long enough to catch a flight out of the city, the nightmare will be over. Unfortunately, the movie would be, too, so when things don’t go quite as planned Remy and Beth are forced to contemplate a new plan of escape.
We live in a society based on ownership, but in reality it’s all an illusion. Day in and day out, we take false comfort in the fact that we “own” our house, our car, and maybe even that fancy jet ski we like to take to the lake on nice weekends, but the hard truth is that we’re merely leasing these things from the banks and the auto dealers. Don’t buy it? Fall behind on payments a few months, and see how far your claims of ownership go in stopping the powers that be from repossessing “your” stuff. The only possession we truly own is our bodies, yet in the era of pacemakers and robotic limbs, even that line begins to grow blurred. The reason Repo Men works so well in its early scenes is because it operates on the solid sci-fi principal of taking current ideas to the next level. After all, artificial organs aren’t cheap, and businesses are always focused on the bottom line. Cynics weary of the healthcare debate are sure to get a few chuckles as former war buddies Remy and Jake ply their trade under some particularly unusual circumstances early on, but when the movie shifts gears to chase mode, originality takes a back seat to dull action set pieces, and it becomes glaringly obvious that first-time feature filmmaker Miguel Sapochnik is simply aping his heroes rather than attempting to develop his own style.
Of course, it’s hard to hate a guy who manages to rip off both Oldboy and Brazil in the final act of his first film. The main problem with Repo Men seems to lie somewhere between Sapochnik’s direction and Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner’s screenplay. There’s a strange kind of disconnect between the two that gradually builds throughout the course of the film, eventually coming to a head in the climactic scene between Law and Braga. It’s as if the veil of illusion is suddenly lifted, and the absurdity of the whole thing instantly comes into sharp focus, poking us in the ribs and daring us to stifle our laughter as the line between satire and tragic drama becomes impossible to distinguish.
It’s a shame, too, mainly because Law and Whitaker make such a fun pair as they pal around and engage in competitions to see who can collect the most organs - giving the first act the feeling of a demented sci-fi buddy film. Their tongue-in-cheek performances indicate that they’re both well aware of the satiric tone the filmmakers are striving to achieve, yet later scenes indicate that even the director and screenwriters weren’t quite sure how to give the proceedings gravity when the plot calls for it. By failing to strike a consistent tone that pays off in the end, Sapochnik, Garcia, and Lerner leave their audience -- not to mention their own film -- floundering. Paul Verhoeven had been making movies for 17 years before he perfected the fine art of merging genre thrills with sci-fi satire in Robocop -- and, even then, some viewers failed to grasp the deeper subtexts amidst all the hyper-violent action. Perhaps, given a little more time, Sapochnik will develop those same sensibilities, but before that can happen he’ll have to start looking inward for inspiration, instead of upward.
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- Released: 2010
- Rating: R
- Review: A movie can coast a long way on a strong central concept alone; if an idea is (at least somewhat) fresh and original, it’s easy to forgive a film its minor shortcomings in favor of appreciating the things it gets right. Add a strong cast to that mix, and y… (more)