Repo Men is a broken sci-fi
action film that suffers from unfocused direction and irregular shifts
in tone. Despite a premise that could have produced either a solid
thriller or a bitter pill of a satire, the film can't sustain its
own ideas long enough for them to register in any significant or memorable
way. Newcomer Miguel Sapochnik struggles to create a mood, but
only succeeds in creating a visual rip-off of Blade Runner while mishandling his strong cast.
In a near-future extrapolation of our
own society, a corporation called The Union offers its stricken customers
artificial replacement organs, obviating long waits for human donors.
Like many companies, The Union makes most of its money extending large
lines of credit at high rates of interest to its customers, many of
whom cannot afford the organs they so desperately need. Remy (Jude
Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) are two of The Union's repo men, charged
with forcibly extracting organs when customers default on their accounts.
It's vile work, and Remy is looking to move into a sales job instead.
On his final job as a repo man, Remy is injured, and winds up in a hospital
with a new heart - one supplied by The Union. No longer able
to perform his job, Remy leaves The Union and joins up with a singer
named Beth (Alice Braga), who has multiple past-due artificial organs.
Pursued by The Union, the pair embark on a mission to destroy the company
and save themselves.
The screenplay by Eric Garcia (author
of the Anonymous Rex series of novels) and Garrett Lerner (of House, M.D. and other TV work) holds the seeds of an interesting,
timely story. Its premise is sufficiently plausible, particularly
in view of the economic context in which it is set. There is something
interesting in here about the way we live now, the lengths to which
we are forced to go in order to survive, and the self-defeating aspects
of our economic system. This could have been a gritty, character-oriented
piece with some meaty ideas and punchy pieces of action. But the
script's thematic core is mostly cast aside by director Sapochnik,
who is overly concerned with visuals and gore.
The result is a choppy mess.
Some scenes go for laughs, with a clever self-aware wit and comically-staged
visuals. Others are Verhoeven-esque gross-outs, with gouged flesh
and flying blood. The tonal chaos of it all takes us from satirical
comedy to dire noir-ish desperation, leaving us unable to make
head or tail of the characters in the midst of it all. Despite
decent work by Law, Whitaker, Braga, and Liev Schreiber as the repo
men's boss at The Union, these characters feel shapeless, tossed about
willy-nilly by a director who hasn't taken the time to sort them out
for himself. Some films are carefully planned in advance, with
a very specific script, storyboards, and extensive rehearsal.
Others are "created" in the editing room, shaping shot footage into
a cohesive whole, despite the fact that the final product may conflict
with the film as it was scripted. Repo Men falls into neither
category. It's a movie that suggests a lack of vision at all
stages of production. It's a sloppy mess that is barely passable
as a weeknight's entertainment.
The 2.35:1 transfer by Universal is fairly strong. Visually,
Repo Men stays pretty dark, so the solid blacks are important.
Contrast is good, too, and details are clear. Little to no digital
noise is evident, and compression defects are nil. Overall, this
is good work.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is just average. The mix
is a little too busy at times, with lackluster separation. The
score by Marco Beltrami, while ever-present, is nonetheless lost in
the mix. Surrounds, which should be more active given the genre
and action-oriented plot, don't pop quite as they should. But
it's not bad work, either. Dialogue is clear, and occasional
details shine through.
First, the DVD contains two cuts of the film: the original theatrical cut, and an unrated version that is eight minutes longer. This review is based on the theatrical cut.
Bonus content begins with a full-length Commentary Track featuring director Miguel
Sapochnik along with writers Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner. There
are a selection of Deleted Scenes (8:36) with optional commentary.
Unedited versions of The Union Commercials (4:11), seen only
fleetingly in the finished film, are next. Finally, a very brief
featurette called Inside the Visual Effects (6:08), narrated
by Sapochnik and Garcia, looks at the different effects processes involved
in completing the film.
This decent-looking but tonally maddening
and scattershot sci-fi thriller wastes a good cast and a good premise.
Genre fanatics will want to check it out and may even be mildly entertained;
everyone else will just want to rent it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.