Review: Repo Men

Repo Men PosterLet me just start my review by saying that Repo Men was awful. Graphic, bloody, and with a staggering body count, this is all that’s wrong with Hollywood action films, a glossy sheen on a completely vapid, empty story that works against itself in scene after scene. Then, the worst of all is the surprise ending, a twist that’s always frustrated me. I won’t reveal it, but if you do suffer through this dreck, you’ll know exactly why it’s a formulaic ending that ruins all but a precious few films that utilize it.

sf/x: deep breath.
Repo Men explores a dystopic future where cities look curiously like the brilliantly realized urban landscape of Blade Runner and artificial organs, “artiforgs”, have been perfected and replacement eyes, ears, voice boxes, kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs, kneecaps, etc., are not only manufactured by a variety of companies worldwide, but there’s also a thriving black market in replacement parts (a la Minority Report).  Problem is, these artificial body parts are extraordinarily expensive, so just about everyone opts for a payment plan. Miss a few payments, though, and the repo men show up to reclaim their wares.
Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) are repo men working for The Union, one of the companies that sells replacement organs to hapless citizens. “You owe it to your family, you owe it to yourself” is the company slogan and its bland showroom reminded me of the retail pet cloning business in The 6th Day
Some bad films show up on the scene and are just dumb. I can live with that. But when a script starts out with the lead character musing on the dilemma of Schrödinger’s cat, asking “how can something be dead and alive at the same time?” and ends up such a complete narrative mess, it’s beyond just disappointing. Trust me on this one, just skip Repo Men.

Remy and Jake are top repo men for the company, fast, efficient, and they clearly enjoy their work, which generally involves tasering overdue artiforg holders then brutally slicing them open and ripping out the artificial organ while in the back seat of a car, in their kitchen, bedroom and even in front of their children or lovers. Remy explains “almost every job I do ends the same way, with them doing the horizontal mambo.”

The two men have been friends since they were in grade school and still interact as if they’re school boys, roughhousing and harassing each other with a familiarity that has homoerotic overtones. Remy’s wife Carol (Carice van Houten) is sick of his unpredictable hours and job as a repo man, and gives him an ultimatum: either he changes jobs or she, and their son Peter (Chandler Canterbury), are going to leave.
Jake, however, thinks that being a repo man is the perfect job for Remy and thus sets up the triangle that creates the core tension of the film: should Remy stick with his job and his buddy Jake, or should he change jobs and create familial harmony, even at the cost of his friendship with Jake?
repo men publicity still

Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) in Repo Men

Remy decides he’s going to switch into sales, and on his last repo job the equipment fails and his heart is blasted out. He wakes up in hospital and is horrified to find out that he’s fitted with a new top-of-the-line Jarvik-39 artificial heart, made and owned by The Union. He’s now in debt, the hunter to become the hunted, but in a daft story element, getting an artificial heart causes him to see the proverbial error of his ways and he finds his “heart” and becomes jaded and cynical, unable to sell replacement organs and unable to accomplish the occasional repo job to raise money.
As is common with action films, relationships are ridiculously shallow, and Carol is not at Remy’s bedside when he wakes up, and later refuses to let him even see Peter when he shows up on the doorstep. That’s okay, though, because he quickly forgets her and connects with Montego Bay lounge singer Beth (Alice Braga) who has all sorts of artificial organs and is way overdue on her payments. Remy can’t pay for his heart either, so it’s not long before the repo men are after the fleeing couple.
Remy decides to fight rather than run, quickly realizing that the only way he can truly free them from the threat of reposession is to destroy the central organ computer (backups appear to have been not invented in this cinematic universe). 
Here’s where the film slams into a wall: in the interest of helping people with overdue organs, he wantonly slaughters any and everyone in his way, including scene after scene of graphic and unnecessary murders. If it’s your humanity that’s propelling you to try and help people, wouldn’t you be reticent to kill others, even if they stand in the way of your goal? Then again, given how this mess of a story ends, perhaps it’s all irrelevant anyway and there is no reason to require an internal logic to the storyline.
I will say that the film is very well assembled. The environment is an interesting mix of futuristic and dystopic settings, with the mostly CG exteriors quite cool. There were some aspects that were also intriguing: the film opens with the news that the government is about to declare bankruptcy, and there are omnipresent TV screens running news non-stop, including a snippet about the wryly named Operation Hope Springs Eternal about a pending war in Nigeria.
Still, a pretty film with good special effects, nicely choreographed fight scenes and shiny props can’t mask a wreck of a story that has no internal logic and is disgusting, scene after scene, with no ultimate climax that explains what’s happened and leaves the viewer fulfilled. When Ninja Assassin (see my earlier review) is better, well, maybe it’s time to hire better scriptwriters for director Miguel Sapochnik’s next film. 
For now, I encourage you to skip Repo Men entirely. It’s just not worth the popcorn.

One comment on “Review: Repo Men

  1. “Some bad films show up on the scene and are just dumb. I can live with that. But when a script starts out with the lead character musing on the dilemma of Schrödinger’s cat, asking “how can something be dead and alive at the same time?” and ends up such a complete narrative mess, it’s beyond just disappointing. ”

    With that in mind, avoid Jared Leto’s latest outing, ‘Mr. Nobody.’

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