"Repo Men" rejects thought-provoking science fiction in favor of a giddy futuristic bloodbath.
A “Minority Report” for the organ-donor crowd, “Repo Men” rejects thought-provoking science fiction in favor of a giddy futuristic bloodbath. Set in a world where artificial body parts are all the rage and professional goons come knocking to repossess your spleen, this ultra-gory speculative noir is, at its infrequent best, certifiably nuts; the rest of the time, it’s one numbingly brutal slog. Starring Jude Law as an organ collector who decides to turn the operating tables, the Universal release should carve out an appreciative audience among action fans, none of whom will require additional brain cells to enjoy it.
Entirely unrelated to the 1984 cult hit “Repo Man,” though bearing some story similarities to 2008’s “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” the picture posits a not-so-distant future in which a corporation called the Union manufactures high-tech artificial organs, or “artiforgs.” These are marketed and sold to gullible customers at top prices, then violently (and most of the time, fatally) reclaimed when they can’t pay up.
Since Americans are clearly no better at managing their organ debts than their credit-card bills, business is booming for Union repo men Remy (Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker), who are also lifelong pals. As seen in the pic’s first setpiece — a combat-heavy raid on a ship full of artiforg recipients long past their final notice — Remy and Jake are very good at what they do.
But when Remy’s gloomy wife (Carice van Houten, never cracking a smile) objects to his job and the example it sets for their young son, he decides to move into sales. As fate would have it, Remy sustains a serious injury during his last job, requiring a heart transplant and making him another Union slave. In a very literal reading of the phrase “change of heart,” Remy finds he can’t do the dirty work anymore — and, since he works on commission, he’s now racking up major debt.
Soon Remy’s on the run, along the way picking up the obligatory sexy/battered love interest, Beth (Alice Braga, “I Am Legend”), a drifter who can scarcely call a single body part her own. (Sample pre-seduction dialogue: “What brand are your lips?” “They’re all me.”) Together, they conspire to bring down the system Remy used to serve, while Jake tries to hunt down his friend-turned-renegade.
As scripted by Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner (who developed the screenplay alongside Garcia’s 2009 novel “The Repossession Mambo”), “Repo Men” could have supported any number of topically resonant spins: a perversely comic portrait of capitalism run amok, or perhaps an extreme argument for health-care reform. Script does throw off the occasional flash of mordant humor, and the climax, with its dismayingly unhygienic mix of sex and scalpels, is in such jaw-dropping bad taste as to be almost admirable.
These potent moments aside, the film has neither the intellectual rigor nor the internal consistency needed to make its vision of the future seem even remotely plausible, and it short-circuits its more provocative implications in a muddle of conflicting moods. Remy (who, wouldn’t you know, has literary aspirations) provides a running inner monologue, lending the picture a half-brooding, half-comic tone stranded somewhere between noir and Guy Ritchie; any nuances are ultimately drowned out not only by Marco Beltrami’s hemorrhaging score, but by the bone-crunching intensity of the violence.
Earning its R rating and then some, “Repo Men” boasts more closeup stabbings, slashings, guttings, bludgeonings and scenes of unnecessary surgery than any studio actioner in recent memory. Characters get into knife fights so often, it’s no wonder they all need new organs; one sequence in particular appears to have been repossessed from Park Chan-wook’s notorious “Oldboy,” albeit with blades in lieu of hammers.
Slickly choreographed, punchily edited, sexed up with slow-mo, these extended bouts of bloodletting bear out every stereotype of directors who, like first-timer Miguel Sapochnik, come to feature filmmaking from the world of musicvideos. Leaking stylized geysers of red from every orifice, “Repo Men” works hard to put the “art” in arterial splatter. That’s hardly a compliment.
Miscast in an admittedly incoherent role (loving father/aspiring novelist/professional disemboweler), Law delivers a physically energetic turn but doesn’t supply much of a rooting interest, and his eventual transformation into suspender-clad killing machine plays like a preview of an ill-advised action franchise. Whitaker rings another variation on his familiar persona of cuddly one minute, freakishly murderous the next; the ever-bewitching Braga gives the film some much-needed flickers of vulnerability; and Liev Schreiber is supremely oily as the soulless suit who runs the Union.
Alternating between glittering nighttime cityscapes (with a pronounced Chinese influence) and rundown housing projects, the Toronto-shot pic delivers a future reality that’s persuasively low-key but not especially immersive. Juxtaposition of grotesque flesh-cutting sequences with retro tunes like “Sway” quickly grows repetitive.