Case Number 19343


Universal // 2010 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // July 23rd, 2010

The Charge

Consider them your final notice.

Opening Statement

Having endured a string of high profile flops including Land of the Lost, Funny People, and Green Zone, Universal was depending on the conceptually interesting and modestly budgeted Repo Men to reverse its fortunes last March. However, the $32 million thriller was just as unsuccessful as the previous misfires, landing itself a paltry $17 million worldwide and a mixed selection of critical notices. After several months, Repo Men now bungles itself onto DVD, with the hope that the genre fanatics who skipped it in theatres can make it a cult hit in the home entertainment market. It's not a completely improbable scenario, as the film definitely provides viewers with some quirky ideas and gratuitous gore, but overall the production feels too flawed for it to generate the required heat needed for runaway DVD sales or rabid fanboy appeal.

Facts of the Case

In the future, it's possible to defeat life threatening disease and organ failure thanks to the work of the Union. The Union is a corporation that produces artificial organs, and for exorbitant prices makes them available to the general public through pay per month plans. However, failure to comply with the payment plan over 90 days will lead to visitation by a Repo Man, a Union employee who breaks into your house and violently reclaims the company property. Two such Repo Men are Remy (Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes) and Jake (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland). They're best friends and two of the finest repo operatives in the business, having perfected their craft through a cold hearted attitude and a steady surgical hand. However, an accident comes to leave Remy with an artificial heart and it quickly transpires that he can't pay the bills. The company's head, Frank (Liev Schreiber, The Omen), quickly instructs a reluctant Jake to hunt down his old buddy, showing no mercy to Remy or the artificially enhanced lounge singer (Alice Braga, I Am Legend) he has teamed up with.

The Evidence

Repo Men is an extremely messy motion picture, boasting wild shifts in tone, an oddly placed desire to generate chuckles, and more subplots than sense. It isn't a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is riddled with faults, and its central idea is actually one already committed to celluloid -- 2008's underrated musical Repo! The Genetic Opera. However, unlike that film Repo Men treads a slightly more familiar path, pursuing a more conventional thriller setting in which to exploit its themes. The film still throws up odd moments of blood lusting insanity or satirical wit, but ultimately the whole ship is too muddled and unfocused for the film to sail home a winner. There are individual things to like about Repo Men, but as a whole it's liable to leave audiences a little cold.

Jude Law and Forest Whitaker offer pretty workmanlike turns in Repo Men. Law has never been much of a performer in my eyes, but Whitaker is a talent whose career choices keep wrong-footing him. One only has to look at his recent (and thoroughly wasteful) CV to confirm such a theory. His role in Repo Men represents another character beneath his superior thespian abilities, especially seeing as he's playing second fiddle to an actor not nearly as appealing or versatile. Law never makes Remy annoying or grating, but it's a pretty standard and unadventurous performance in a film that might have appreciated a little extra mania from its leading man. Together they never really feel like the tight friends they're meant to be. Whitaker musters a few moments of emotional connection, but otherwise it's a pretty unsatisfactory screen pairing. Alice Braga goes through the motions in a confused and underwritten part; her relationship with Law is cheated by some lazy writing and jumbled storytelling. Similarly the talented Carice Van Houten (Valkyrie) is left stuck in the empty role of Remy's disenchanted and bitchy wife. It's a waste of a fine actress. On the other hand, Liev Schreiber does a neat job as Remy and Jake's smarmy boss, finding an air of truth and believability in a role that would tempt most actors to start chewing scenery.

The screenplay is a structural joke, asking big favors of the audience and offering relatively little back in return. Repo Men requires the audience to accept stacks of superficial characterization and several instances of unjustified narrative turns, begging viewers not to forego the picture due to its sheer incoherency in some areas. For instance, the relationship between Law and Braga is spectacularly mishandled, and subplots involving Remy's family and a newfound conscience are underdeveloped and feel at times superfluous to the central plotting. Repo Men showcases some ambition in the realms of intellectual observation and satirical jibes, but its overabundance of fumbled characters and story arcs practically cancel such a success out.
The action sequences are enjoyable and well shot by first time director Miguel Sapochnik, who also displays a commendable flair for creating futuristic worlds and atmospheric settings. As a raw action flick, Repo Men is more or less a success, tapping into mounds of bloody carnage and bizarre surgical cuts. From a tonal perspective, this jars with the sly sense of humor also on display and even with some of the film's corporate parodying, but when taken on their own, both these features are well rendered and appreciated. However, when mixed as part of the same broth they feel ill at ease and counterproductive. I'm not saying violence and comedy have no place together (just look at Paul Verhoeven's back catalogue), but Sapochnik hasn't the experience or skill to meld them adequately within his own movie.

Repo Men closes on a fascinating and unexpected note, and one that goes quite a ways in improving the overall product. It's not enough for me to give Repo Men a free pass, but those seeking flawed yet curious rental fodder should chalk this picture up as a prime candidate. I'm sure when Repo Men arrives on DVD, its audience will be bolstered and fans will come crawling out of the woodwork, but ultimately the film is too troubled and unconvincing on a basic level to ever be considered a contender for mainstream success or even universal acceptance.

Universal have given the financially underachieving film a surprisingly good disc, especially when it comes to bonus features. It isn't a knockout selection of extra content but it's a solid and informative enough little roster. The director's commentary track is fairly good, finding the right balance between filmmaking info and anecdotal admiration for the finished product. A selection of deleted scenes with optional commentaries is amusing and acts as a nice companion to the extended cut of the film found on this disc. The longer cut runs for an extra 8 minutes and appears to focus on beefing up the relationship between Remy and his son, an element in my mind that would have been best left excised from any version of the movie. Its unrated moniker probably means that this larger version also includes a bit of added gore, but in truth I couldn't really detect any specific example of this. Finally a short featurette and selection of spoof Union trailers are also included; the latter good for a few giggles the former good for mostly nothing. The video and audio quality on this release are pretty robust, albeit it's probably worth noting at this point that the musical score by Marco Beltrami is uncharacteristically bland coming from such a capable composer.

Closing Statement

It isn't a huge surprise that Repo Men flopped; like many of Universal's recent bombs, it was never going to appeal to a mass audience, and indeed it feels weaker in terms of quality than several of those films that had already failed for the studio. Still, it probably packs enough of genuine interest to warrant a weekend rental.

The Verdict

Guilty in the eyes of the masses, but courts populated by sci-fi and action enthusiasts might be willing to go easier on this movie. It all really depends on which side of that divide you fall.

Review content copyright © 2010 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 86
Audio: 85
Extras: 82
Acting: 75
Story: 75
Judgment: 79

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)

* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurette
* Commercials

* IMDb