In recent years, timeliness has been high on the minds of most box office prognosticators. Last winter, some blamed the box office disappointments of films like The International and Confessions Of A Shopaholic on how they related to current events. The International was deemed too timely with its story of evil bankers trying to take over the world coming just months after the bank-fueled collapse of Wall Street. On the other hand, Confessions was widely criticized for its pre-recession notions of spending as a way of life. Of course, I’d like to think that both disappointed due to the simple fact that they were bad films, but if I’m wrong, then it doesn’t speak well to the box office chances of Miguel Sapochnik’s debut feature Repo Men, a film that portrays the business side of medicine as so evil that it may as well have been funded by the Obama administration. On the other hand, it may fail because, once again, it simply is not a good film. In fact, for large portions of its runtime, it is a spectacularly awful one, although it eventually rises above this to become simply bad.
The film is set at an indeterminate point in the future, although the city it’s set in is exactly the same as the 2019 Los Angeles of Blade Runner, so I’ll assume it’s set there. An opening montage tells us that order is collapsing and the outside world is in a chaotic state, but this is never shown or alluded to again. The Union is a corporation that sells people artificial organs. They work perfectly, but cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if you don’t pay, The Union sends their repo men to take back their property with no consideration for human life. Jude Law plays Remy, the best repo man in whatever city the film is set in. His life seems pretty good. He makes good commission, has a beautiful wife and son, and he gets to work with his best friend Jake, played by Forest Whitaker. His wife begins to question his job, and he decides to ask the boss, Frank (Live Schreiber) to switch from repo to a lower paying but morally acceptable job in sales. Before he makes the switch, Remy goes on one last job, to get the heart of a musician named T-Bone, played by RZA in a random cameo. Something goes wrong with the electrical wires, and Remy is shocked so strongly that he needs an artificial heart, which his sales job won’t pay for. He tries to get back into the repo game, but has a change of heart and realizes the amorality of his job. His wife takes his son and leaves him because he went back, but Jake still tries to help Remy out. However, he still can’t pay, so he goes on the run with Beth (Alice Braga), a woman who is more forgan (I’ll let you guess what it means) than real. They’re supposed to be attracted to each other, although it’s never explained why, since Remy had only seen her once before. Remy and Beth try to hide in the underground of people running from The Union while Jake and Frank try to catch them, and the second half of the film focuses mainly on this chase. Eventually, Remy realizes that they can’t beat the system from outside, so they go into The Union’s headquarters to destroy the database and bring everyone’s debt to zero.
For most of its runtime, this is an awful film, but, at the very least, Repo Men could have been much worse. With about fifteen minutes left, I was ready to tear the film to shreds. The first ninety minutes follow nearly every cliché of the man-on-the-run sci-fi sub-genre. We never have any reason to care about Remy because, no matter how sincere his turn around may be, he was still too selfish to realize that he was killing innocent people until it happened to him. Most of Beth’s fake organs are either cosmetic or the result of something that she did wrong, but she is so poorly developed that I doubt we were meant to care for her anyway. Jake and Frank make acceptable, but not memorable villains, although both actors give it their all. The questions about the separation between life and death are handled with the shallowness you’d expect of a Hollywood action film. Remy’s narration is far too comedic for a dramatic story, even though there are a few attempts at dark humor throughout. The film is visually uninspired, as Sapochnik does little but take shots from better science fiction films and try to fit them into the plot.
Most of the attempts at humor fail, but, near the end, they start to work, allowing the film to redeem itself to a certain extent. I’ve already mentioned the obvious Blade Runner influence, but that isn’t the only film reference here. The plan to blow up the credit headquarters seems to be ripped straight from Fight Club, and there’s a very familiar adrenaline shot to the heart sequence near the end, but in between is something a bit more interesting. As Remy and Beth try to get to the mainframe to shut it down, they are encountered by a group of armed repo men that they must kill (which, of course, destroys the film’s message about the value of human life). The initial shot shows them from a side-scroller perspective, and made me think that Sapochnik was actually going to recreate the famous hammer fight sequence from Oldboy. It started as such, but soon cut to a more traditional angle. The fight was amusingly violent, and, at the very end, Remy does kill some of them with a hammer, completing the homage. Of course, it’s never a good sign when one of the best scenes in a film is a half-assed homage to a better scene in a better film, but at least it was interesting. The film’s best moment, however, comes right after that. Remy and Beth realize that they cannot just destroy the computer, and thus have to scan in their own organs, which are still inside their bodies, to break free. What follows is best described as a blood orgy, and is one of the more surprising moments I can think of in a big-budget film. Regrettably, the film then rolls out an obvious twist which ruins all the fun and, unfortunately, ten minutes of amusing craziness are not enough to make up for one hundred minutes of banality. Outside of those two scenes, the film offers nothing interesting in terms of style (not even the over-the-top visual flourishes you’d expect from someone making their first film), nothing particularly memorable in terms of performance (all though all three male leads are pretty good) and nothing but triteness in regards to dialogue. Those ten minutes of goodness prove that the film had potential, but I’m sorry to say that it is just another sci-fi film trying to get by on idea over execution, and, like so many in recent years, it fails to do so.
Repo Men is Rated R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and some sexuality/nudity.
It opens everywhere Friday March 19th.
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik; written by Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner, based on the novel Reposession Mambo by Eric Garcia; director of photography, Enrique Chediak; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; original music by Marco Beltrami; art director, Dan Yarhi; produced by Mary Parent and Scott Stuber; distributed by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes.
With: Jude Law (Remy), Forrest Whitaker (Jake), Alice Braga (Beth), Liev Schreiber (Frank), Carice Van Houten (Carol), Chandler Canterbury (Peter) and RZA (T-Bone).