by Mel Valentin
"Repo Men," a science fiction-action/thriller directed by Miguel Sapochnik (making his feature-length debut) and written by Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner, arrives in multiplexes this weekend after multiple delays and comparisons, most of them unfavorable, to "Repo: The Genetic Opera," a science fiction-rock-musical that received limited release last year. While "Repo Men" shares a general premise with "Repo: A Genetic Opera" thatís all it is, a shared premise. Sapochnik and his screenwriters deliver nothing less than a homage- and reference-crammed gory actioner that would make Paul Verhoeven and David Cronenberg sporadically proud at their willingness to push the R rating to the edge with blood, gore, and violence, all or most of it gratuitous.Cobbling together bits and pieces from earlier, better science fiction films (e.g., Minority Report, Total Recall, Brazil, Blade Runner, Loganís Run, Rollerball), Repo Men is set in a near-future dystopia where the United States of America has been overrun by multi-national corporations. One corporation in particularly, known only as the Union, has cornered the market on artificial organs (artiforgs for short). Prohibitively expensive, Artiforgs are purchased on credit (like a house or car), usually with exorbitant (or is extortionate?) interest rates. When the purchaser falls behind payments (they have a three month, 4-day grace period), the repo (for repossession) men of the title show up to extract the Unionís property. If itís a minor organ, the buyer has a chance of survival. If itís not, he (or she) forfeits his (or her) life).
"Derivative sci-fi/thriller/actioner. In other words, wait for DVD or cable."
Repo Men focuses on Remy (Jude Law), a repo man (naturally enough, heís ďthe best of the bestĒ). Along with his partner and longtime friend, Jake (Forest Whitaker), Remy collects artiforgs by any means necessary, up to an including impromptu, on-site surgery (shown in graphic detail, in case youíre into that kind of thing). Remy and Jakeís boss, Frank (Liev Schreiber), couldnít be happier with their performance. Remyís wife, Carol (Carice van Houten), however, hates what he does and attempts to convince him to go into sales, threatening Remy with divorce if he refuses to agree to the job switch. On a late-night call by himself, Remy gets electrocuted by faulty equipment, necessitating a new, artificial heart.
During and after his recovery, Remy gains a conscience, losing his ability to distance himself from his work (ďa jobís a jobĒ). Remy tries (and fails) to extract artiforgs from non-paying owners. Falling behind in payments and without a steady income, Remy decides to flee to the cityís perimeter, where social outcasts, including non-paying artiforg owners, live under precarious circumstances. There he meets Beth (Alice Braga), a woman whoís more machine than human (she has five or six artiforgs, including artificial eyes and ear drums). Remyís flight, of course, sets up a confrontation with Frank and, more importantly, with Jake, who has his own struggles with the ďjob is a jobĒ mantra thatís allowed him to work, conscience-free, as a repo man.
From there, Repo Men devolves into a Loganís Run/Minority Report-style chase. Like the lead characters in Loganís Run and Minority Report, Remy ends up on the outside of the criminal justice system, with his former friends and co-workers his newfound enemies. With a significantly lower budget than Minority Report, Repo Menís chase scenes are far from epic. Repo Men scores better when Remy goes into action-hero mode, using every weapon available to dispatch semi-anonymous foes. The fight scenes give Sapochnik the opportunity to borrow or pay homage (or rip-off, depending on your perspective) the using-bodies-as-shields trick from Total Recall and in the longest sequence, an overt homage to Oldboy involving a hallway fight, Remy grabs a hammer (he actually asks for one, to make the reference even more noticeable). Thereís even a Pulp Fiction quote (an obvious one)References, quotes, or rip-offs aside, "Repo Menís" storyline never rises above the derivative, up to and including a seriously misjudged twist ending that even the most causal of science-fiction fans will see coming early on (because itís been overused and abused so much). Where "Repo Men" shows a glimmer of originality, however, is, surprisingly enough, in the Jake character. His sympathies and loyalties shift throughout the film, making him the rare antagonist who isnít a one-dimensional villain. Itís unfortunate that the care and attention Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner spent on developing Jake didnít extend to the other characters. Remyís a bundle of clichťs and Beth a superfluous appendage. It doesnít help that Law and Braga have almost no chemistry onscreen, but thatís sup-par for the course when it comes to "Repo Men."
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originally posted: 03/19/10 22:44:04