Universal // 2010 // 111 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 27th, 2010
Consider them your final notice.
2009 saw the most intense debate in the history of American democracy about the so-called "public health option." Whether you support such an option or not, the biggest upshot of the debate was showing just how expensive modern medical care can be. In 2010 we've seen the Deep Horizon well fail, spewing oil into the Gulf. Again, it doesn't matter which side of the "BP's to blame" debate you're on, the failure showed that big corporations can have a huge impact on our world. It's appropriate then, that 2010 also saw the release of Repo Men, a dystopian sci-fi film that seems ready made to slot into the current zeitgeist about money, medicine, and corporate responsibility. Like the discussions around healthcare and corporate responsibility, Repo Men is a confused, unfocused affair that squanders any good will it generates by trying to be too many things at once.
In the future, artificial organs ("artiforgs") are all the rage: they can replace your failing heart with an even better model, but the price tag is hefty. If you get behind on your payments, the Union, makers of these "forgs," will send Repo Men to collect their property. Remy (Jude Law, The Holiday) and Jake (Forest Whitaker, Street Kings) are repo men, and friends since their stint in the Army. Unlike Jake, Remy has a wife and kid who want him home more often, so he's hoping to transition to sales. That is, until a repo goes wrong and Remy ends up with an artificial heart. With his wife kicking him out, his lust for repos gone, and the payments getting more and more overdue, Remy is backed into a corner and will have to fight the Union to survive.
Yep, you've heard this one before: in 2008 the architect of some of the Saw sequels, Darren Lynn Bousman, released Repo! The Genetic Opera about a dystopian future where a single company controlled organ production and repossession. However, unlike Repo Men, Repo! benefitted from a consistent tone (Grand Guignol, a kind of industrial Rocky Horror Picture Show), a well-paced plot, and likeable (if stereotypical) characters. Repo Men sadly lacks all of these features.
Repo Men starts (aside from a rather sad voiceover by Jude Law) as a kind of black comedy. We get to see Remy and Jake about their work, on top of the world, as they play God dispensing with people's lives and organs. The opening scenes are full of promise, but as soon as the plot winds up with Remy's new heart the film shifts to a kind of drama, as Remy reflects on his life as a repo man. Everything slows way down so he can have his change of heart (pun intended). Once Remy becomes the hunted, the film shifts into action mode, offering numerous fight scenes and action set pieces. The problem is only two out of these three (black comedy, serious drama, and action film) can really work together at any one time, so the audience is left scratching their head as the film jumps from tone to tone.
Then there's the plot. There really is a great 88-minute movie lurking in Repo Men. If the creative team had jettisoned the unnecessary female character, focused on the black comedy and action, and kept things moving rather than letting Remy wallow in his misery Repo Men could have been a well-paced, somewhat thought-provoking sci-fi actioner. Instead, the film is bloated (at just under two hours in the theatrical cut with the "unrated" cut only adding to the problem) and meandering. The film takes too long to set up the futuristic world, doesn't get to Remy's injury quickly enough, and the middle is marred with an excessive subplot involving another woman under threat of repossession. The ending delivers the action goods, but by the time the audience gets there, most good will is gone.
Repo Men also suffers from being drastically underwritten in the character department. Remy is pretty well rounded and sympathetic, but pretty much everybody else is one dimensional and/or obnoxious. Jake is a twelve-year-old boy who refuses to grow up, and we're not really sure why he and Remy have stuck it out (aside from the stereotypical "we survived the war" flashbacks). Remy's wife goes from slightly-upset-about-your-job-honey to you-can't-ever-see-your-son-you-bastard in about two seconds worth of screen time with little warning. Remy's boss Frank is a one-note "salesman" in the most smarmy tradition -- he'd give used car salesmen a bad name. The upshot of all this is that I wanted to see Remy kill pretty much everybody else in the movie about 10 minutes in, but sadly I didn't get my wish .
Repo Men's one saving grace, the thing that kept it out of the straight-to-video bin, is the acting. Jude Law got absolutely ripped for his role as Remy, and he keeps the character likeable and down to earth despite his job. Forest Whitaker doesn't usually play less intelligent guys, but his turn as Jake is note perfect (even if I think the character is horrible). Liev Schreiber turns in a creepy performance as Frank, simply oozing horrible charm. My favorite actor in the film though is the RZA, who has a cameo as a record producer who is behind on his artiforg payments. It's a wonderfully subdued performance, and one hopes that the RZA is slowly building a career in acting.
There's also very little to complain about with Blu-ray release. The disc includes the theatrical and unrated cuts, and the latter adds 8 minutes of little scenes (much of it gory) to an otherwise long film. The 2.35:1 image is great, with strong detail, solid blacks, and great colors when the cinematography allows for it. This is exactly the kind of presentation we expect from a recent blockbuster-style flick. The audio is similarly strong, with a decent use of the surrounds and a decently thumpy low end.
Extras start with a commentary featuring director Migeul Sapochnik and writers Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner. They talk about their vision for the film and how it was affected by studios and ratings. The conversation goes in and out as the film progresses, but overall this is worth listening to. About 10 minutes of deleted scenes are provided, adding nothing essential, but there is optional commentary from the creative team. A featurette focuses on the special effects, and we also get the complete "Union Commercials," which we saw only glimpses of in the final film.
Repo Men is a giant missed opportunity, wasting a good idea and a solid cast on a hacked-together script that doesn't quite know what to do with the material. It might be worth watching to diehard sci-fi film fans to get an interesting glimpse into one possible future, and fans of Jude Law might like his buff look, but otherwise this film will only frustrate despite the solid Blu-ray release.
Repo Men is guilty of being inconsistent.
Review content copyright © 2010 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes