First of all, just in case you’ve missed the ubiquitous TV ads, don’t get your hopes up for a sequel to Alex Cox’s wack-o classic “Repo Man,” which the same studio released in 1984. The decision to change the title to “Repo Men” (from “Repossession Mambo”) may or may not be an attempt to preempt Cox’s upcoming “Repo Chick,” but it seems a little sleazy in any case.
This “Repo” film is a thriller set in the very near future – so near that the cars and sub-“Blade Runner” backdrops seem pretty close to now – when artificial organs have become so commonplace that they are used as frequently for cosmetic as health reasons. But they’re not so commonplace as to benefit from economies of scale.
Very few customers can afford to pay in full; even those who can are encouraged by the salespeople to buy on the installment plan. As exec Frank (Liev Schreiber) reminds his employees, the real money is in the financing. (This is a world in which – one can only assume – healthcare reform has been soundly defeated.)
Of course – as with any big-ticket purchase – if you fall behind in your payments, repo men will come and reclaim your purchase, be it vocal chords, knee joint, or heart. Remy (Jude Law) and longtime buddy Jake (Forest Whitaker) are veteran hotshots within the profession – at least until Remy needs an artificial heart himself. Suddenly he has to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes – or, more accurately, with the other guy’s ticker. (Law’s voice-over includes all the obvious “change of heart” and “my heart was no longer in it” jokes.) Soon he finds himself on the lam with a down-and-out torch singer (Alice Braga), who has almost no original equipment left.
“Repo Men” is basically the long-form version of a famously gruesome sketch from “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.” (To the film’s credit, the debt is acknowledged in the background of one scene.) But, while the Python bit was absurdist humor, “Repo Men” plays it relatively straight, with only a few vaguely effective satirical undercurrents. The Pythons’ humorous (and brief) excess of gore has morphed into the overly familiar excess that is now standard in popcorn movies.
Also obligatory in modern Hollywood is the climactic action sequence that goes on forever. (One section appears to be a pointless and inept homage to Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy.”) And, when Remy and his friends have felled scores of adversaries and finally reached their goal, we realize we have no idea what they hope to accomplish.
The script doesn’t give any of the actors much to work with, and first-time feature director Miguel Sapochnik seems unable to goose them out of their understandable torpor. Whitaker and Schreiber, both of whom are capable of brilliance, are stuck in one-dimensional roles. It’s not only the characters who have mechanical organs; the film itself is equally lifeless and cold. Grade: D+ (Rated R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language, and some sexuality/nudity.)
Peter Rainer, the Monitor's film critic, is on vacation this week.
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