When watching a God-awful movie, at least a fraction of enjoyment can be had by wondering about the origin of such filth. Worse than a God-awful movie, however, is one with an excellent original concept that falls by the wayside. Introducing “Repo Men,” a cross between the beautiful, advert-filled cityscapes of the critically acclaimed “Blade Runner” and the manure-ridden storylines of other shoddy future-films in the vein of “Gamer” and “Death Race.”
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In the not-so-distant future, the state of American health care has reached abysmal depths. So essentially, it’s just plain old America with a few extra bells and whistles and looming, mammoth skyscrapers in the distance. Modern medicine has triumphed in ways never before conceived, and a large corporation referred to as “The Union” tailors artificial organs for terminal patients to the cacophonous tune of around $615,000. Such extortion necessitates the employment of “repo men,” mercenaries who are required to repossess an organ if the patient neglects payment — and by repossess, they mean to rend the organ from the patient’s insides.
Remy (Jude Law, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”) is one such employee, and he and his partner Jake (Forest Whitaker, “Street Kings”) revel in their duties. They playfully joke and make a game of their gruesome occupation. But the audience is eventually expected to believe Remy’s sudden change of heart when an accident renders him in need of The Union’s services, as well as support this sketchy anti-hero’s altruistic new objective — how quaint.
“Repo” fails by trying to be too many things at once — a critique of corrupt politics and corporatism, a profound buddy movie and a harrowing moral dilemma. And it just doesn’t work alongside a soundtrack typical of a Jason Statham movie; the music seems like it’s egging on the Union workers and conventionalizing their actions rather than deploring their corruption. The only movie for which such a strategy can work is one in which we agree whole-heartedly with the actions of the protagonist and root for his cause from start to finish; such an element is nonexistent in “Repo.” The moral compasses of Remy and his wife as well as Jake are apparently stuck somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, because your emotions will inevitably vacillate between a minute bit of empathy and a good deal more of disgust.
Let’s not forget Whitaker. He’s been a hit-or-miss actor after his acclaimed performance in “Last King of Scotland,” and it would be nice to say this movie was anything but a poorly calculated shot on his part. His constant blinking and melodrama — which might make him convincing in another role — become an annoyance as the film progresses.
“Repo Men” gets kudos for a rock-solid concept, but a concept’s execution is the key to its fruition, and it’s impossible to accept that Remy’s jocund approach to his work could be suddenly reversed by a ridiculous twist of fate. More work could have made the characters more believable, and a movie with such enormous potential that isn’t willing to demand more depth from its characters is a crying shame for all its waste.