Any picture that instantly recalls one of the worst movies of 2008 is off to a bad start. [movie id=”364484″]”Repo Men”[/movie] isn’t as teeth-grindingly terrible as “Repo! The Genetic Opera” — there are no songs, for one blessed thing — but the plot holds no surprises (apart from a clever twist at the end that will appeal to fans of the downbeat); and despite all the gore splattered about, the film is surprisingly bloodless.
It’s set in the usual sort of Future World that’s come down to us from “Blade Runner”: Chinese signage fills the streets and blimp-borne billboard ads maneuver up above. Jude Law (squandering his charisma) and Forest Whitaker (likewise his charm) are Remy and Jake, lifelong friends now working for the Union, a company that manufactures high-end artificial organs — kidneys, lungs, eyes, ears, pick a part — and sells them to desperately ill consumers on installment plans. As a smarmy sales honcho named Frank (Liev Schreiber) explains to prospective clients, the arrangement is simple: The company installs the new innards, the consumer makes monthly payments. The downside of the deal — the consumer falls behind, the company uninstalls — is something Frank says “almost never happens.”
That’s a lie, of course — the recycling of repossessed organs is where the company makes its biggest bucks. This is where Remy and Jake come in, banging around town with special gadgets that allow them to spot deadbeats on the streets and then, armed with tasers and a fearsome array of surgical cutlery, chase them down and repossess the pricey organs right on the spot. It’s a bloody business, but Remy and Jake love their work: “Some whimper, some cry, some even laugh,” Remy observes with a giggle. But then one repo job goes wrong, Remy is gravely injured — and he wakes up in the hospital with a new heart, and an installment plan of his own.
This all might have been a lot more fun if first-time director Miguel Sapochnik had resisted the urge to turn the picture into an action-chase movie of a very standard sort. There’s lots of flailing violence — hacksaw battles, hammer attacks — but it’s stylelessly blunt. And there are few time-outs to consider the story’s social implications: When we meet a woman named Beth (Alice Braga), whose entire body — apart from her kissable lips, in which Remy soon takes an interest — is apparently overdue for repossession, we wonder what it now means to be human (another echo of “Blade Runner”).
The movie has no interest in such questions, which is okay — or would be if the picture weren’t so predictable (will Jake be assigned to track down and terminate his old pal, do you think?), or if it had a more distinctive sci-fi look. The urban chaos in which Remy and Jake go about their grisly work is a grim place, with none of the dystopian enchantment of … oh, say, “Blade Runner.” There’s an uncharacteristically lovely sequence in a recording studio in which Remy arrives to repossess the heart of a famous singer (RZA) and winds up telling the man how much he’s always loved his music (as he unpacks his sinister tool kit). And there are a few funny bits, like the repo man who’s bummed about being stuck on perpetual “ear duty.” But the movie’s generally cheap jokiness muddles whatever tone the director might have intended. When Remy and Beth, in frantic search of a high-security portal known as the “pink door,” finally come upon a wall sign bearing a directional arrow and, I’m afraid, the words “Pink Door,” you wish there were someone around to slap. Or at least come up with some bloody songs.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Repo Men.”
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