By no means to be confused with Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic Repo Man, this hyper-derivative new cyber-suspenser based on Eric Garcia’s 2009 novel The Repossession Mambo should be immediately screened in film schools across the world as a shining example of everything that is wrong with the American studio system and the increasingly dreadful junk it produces. A heavy Universal Pictures marketing campaign should deliver some modestly face-saving numbers at opening, but once the knee-jerk Comicon crowd has been drained of its dollars word of mouth will deliver a quick and merciful box office death.
The storyline here is already of questionable originality, which shouldn’t be any surprise since Garcia—who receives screenplay co-credit with House M.D. producer Garrett Lerner—is also the author of the equally derivative Matchstick Men. Basically the same story as the edgier, more thickly ironic 2008 cult indie Repo! The Genetic Opera, Repo Men recounts a near future scenario in which artificial organs are as costly as homes, as plentiful as cars and just as easily repossessed, albeit with a higher mortality rate and considerably more cleanup. While Remy (Jude Law) makes a good living retrieving so-called artiforgs for their corporate manufacturer, The Union, and its oily head honcho, Frank (Liev Schreiber), the nature of the job doesn’t sit well with his wife, Carol (Carice van Houten), who’d prefer he move into a more palatable sales job instead. Meanwhile, his frequent partner, Jake (Forest Whitaker), is a junkie for the work, an ever-present reminder of what Remy might have been had he been born with less of a conscience.
With nowhere to logically go after that rather elaborate setup, Garcia and Lerner proceed to contrive a series of deeply illogical story twists as a means to fabricating some facsimile of a plot. The idea, of course, is to nudge the film—however preposterously—into the “hunter becomes hunted” switcheroo so popular among genre filmmakers over the years. Because fugitives always require partners, Remy naturally happens across Beth (Alice Braga), a junkie whose body is almost entirely constructed of artificial (and past due) organs. Love soon blossoms—because it’s supposed to—and the two set out like an artiforg Bonnie and Clyde, ready to turn the tables on The Union and liberate all those who live in fear of its oppressive repossession Gestapo.
As silly as the material already is, British-born debut director Miguel Sapochnik, who has been an alleged hot property ever since his 2000 short film The Dreamer, doesn’t do it any further favors. While the intention is obviously to place the film in Philip K. Dick territory with all manner of obvious nods to Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report, Sapochnik is so enamored of fanboy lore than he can’t resist loading it up with further references to and rip-offs from countless other and far better films—everything from Brazil, Oldboy and The Matrix to such faux Dick fare as Strange Days and Demolition Man. Throw in a clumsily lugubrious sense of pacing, an awkward mishmash of self-seriousness and misguided moments of gory humor, violence so extreme that every knife-stab and syringe-pinch is accompanied by gushers of blood and heavily layered “squish” sound effects, the kind of overly earnest acting on which good actors typically rely when they’re getting absolutely nothing from their director and the stage is set for one of 2010’s most disastrous misfires.
In fairness, however, Repo Men does manage to be provocative in at least one crucial respect: it begs audiences to contemplate precisely how such a complete and utter mess could make its way this far without at least one sane human being somewhere in the studio hierarchy calling it for the total and utter excrement that it is.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga, Carice van Houten and the RZA
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Screenwriters: Eric Garcia & Garrett Lerner
Producers: Mary Parent and Scott Stuber
Genre: Science Fiction Action-Thriller
Rating: R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and some sexuality/nudity.
Running time: 111 min.
Release date: March 19, 2010