Review: ‘Repo! The Genetic Opera’

Adrienne Shelly

If the concept of the midnight movie weren't moldering in its grave, "Repo! The Genetic Opera" would be cutting-edge fare for the latenight crowd; one can almost hear the aud's partisan cheering for different internal organs, depending on what is being eviscerated at any particular moment.

If the concept of the midnight movie weren’t moldering in its grave, “Repo! The Genetic Opera” would be cutting-edge fare for the latenight crowd; one can almost hear the aud’s partisan cheering for different internal organs, depending on what is being eviscerated at any particular moment. Pet project by Darren Lynn Bousman (who helmed the second, third and fourth “Saw” movies) is a bloody mess, saddled with a score that suggests Stephen Sondheim joined Blue Oyster Cult. But the Nov. 7 Lionsgate release will be a good time for the very strong of stomach.

Based on screenwriters Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich’s stage tuner, which Bousman directed in Los Angeles several years ago, “Repo! The Genetic Opera” is so over-the-top it’s purple. At the same time, it’s not too many lengths of intestine beyond some mainstream movies, “Sweeney Todd” being the most obvious comparison. In fact, while “Repo!” is set in a futuristic world where replacement organs can be bought — and repossessed, if you’re late on the payments — it otherwise fits quite snugly into a “Todd” template.

There’s the guilt-wracked, blade-wielding principal, Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head, of TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), a scientist convinced he was responsible for his wife’s death and the illness of his only child, Shilo (Alexa Vega, of “Spy Kids”).

There’s a truly black-hearted villain, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) — owner of GeneCo, the world’s leader in human replacement parts — who has manipulated Nathan into becoming Repo Man, Rotti’s collector of bad debts and the occasional kidney. Abetted by his demented sons, Luigi (a venomous Bill Moseley) and the mask-wearing Pavi (Nivek Ogre of the band Skinny Puppy), Rotti is evil incarnate, manipulates everyone, and isn’t a bad singer.

Shilo is the emotional center of the film, the innocent who is somehow unsoiled by the dementia rampant in her universe, and Vega gives it her all. The same can be said for all the cast — including Paris Hilton, who delivers a limited but thoroughly appropriate performance in a movie in which almost everything is inappropriate. All the players throw themselves into their parts, so to speak, and given the limited amount of direction going on here, this is probably Bousman’s biggest accomplishment.

This full-blown enthusiasm extends to the movie’s most eccentric bit of casting, Sarah Brightman (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ex, best known for playing Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera”), who, as the mysterious Blind Mag, is the most operatic element in this genetic opera.

Bousman has created a world limited by the story’s stage roots, and, no doubt, by its budget, but he creates a unified whole within a very untidy realm. Would that the music were more memorable: A Sondheim reference isn’t entirely unwarranted — much of the sung narrative is atonal, but it’s also unremarkable. The best number is performed by co-writer Zdunich, who, as the ghoulish Grave Robber, may be the pic’s most engaging character, despite his unpleasant occupation: The painkiller used in organ transplants can be harvested from the dead, it seems. And Grave Robber is really into recycling.

Production values are adequate.

Repo! The Genetic Opera


A Lionsgate release of a Twisted Pictures presentation of a Burg/Koules production. Produced by Daniel Jason Heffner, Carl Mazzocone, Oren Koules, Mark Burg. Executive producers, Darren Lynn Bousman, Peter Block, Jason Constantine, Jonathan McHugh, Tim Palen, Sarah Greenberg. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay, Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich.


Camera (color), Joseph White; editor, Harvey Rosenstock; music, Smith, Terrance; production designer, David Hackl; costume designer, Alex Kavanaugh; casting, Johanna Ray, Jenny Jue. Reviewed at Fantasia Film Festival, Montreal, July 18, 2008. Running time: 98 MIN.


Nathan/Repo Man - Anthony Stewart Head Shilo - Alexa Vega Rotti Largo - Paul Sorvino Grave Robber - Terrance Zdunich Luigi Rotti - Bill Moseley Pavi Rotti - Nivek Ogre Amber Rotti - Paris Hilton Blind Mag - Sarah Brightman

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