(by Dustin Putman
"Repo Men" is set in a near-future metropolis where artificial organs can be bought at a price, and just as easily be repossessed if the owner doesn't keep up with the hefty payments. If this general premise sounds familiar, it's because it was already used for 2008's "Repo! The Genetic Opera." Which came first? That's hard to tell, since both pictures filmed in 2007 (yes, "Repo Men," formerly titled "The Repossession Mambo," has been on the shelf for almost two and a half years) and are adapted from previous source material with fuzzy start dates. The idea is just creepy and depraved enough to work, yet neither attempt to do it justice has been what one might call successful. The problem this time boils down to a sole fatal error: an ending that, in trying too hard to pull one over on the viewer, ruins much of what has come before. There's a difference between providing a sneaky unforeseen plot turn and downright betraying a person's time and emotions. For the promise it held for so long and for the grievous missteps it takes in the final minutes, audiences will be rightfully peeved as negative word of mouth spreads like wildfire. Article continues below
Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) are longtime friends and colleagues working under the firm grip of The Union, a hulking corporation that lures in clients in need of organ transplants and then violently takes back the mechanical parts when they can't pay their sizable debts. A repo man who's also become a murderer any way you slice it, Remy is promptly left by his wife (Carice van Houten) and young son (Chandler Canterbury) when he fails to leave his dirty profession. Then, things get even worse. When a botched assignment and a faulty defibrillator nearly kill him, Remy wakes to discover The Union has replaced his heart in order to save him. Suddenly faced with a conscience and extreme guilt over his cold-blooded ways, Remy breaks away from Jake's goading and finds himself in the same position as his human targets. Unable to kill innocents any longer and, thus, unable to earn the money to pay his bills, Remy has no choice but to go on the run when Union president Frank (Liev Schreiber) sics the other repo men on him. Not one to give up without a fight, Remy teams up with exotic drifter Beth (Alice Braga)—herself riddled with artificial body parts—to escape capture and bring the crooked company to its knees.
With "Repo Men," first-time feature director Miguel Sapochnik brings impressive style to his aesthetics and welcome coherence to his numerous action scenes. Aided by a talented visual effects team, the city of Toronto has been upgraded with a neat futuristic look echoing 1982's "Blade Runner." Sapochnik, along with screenwriters Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner, seem to be in full control of both their storytelling and tone, mixing Grand Guignol violence and gore with a blackly comic streak that works most of the time. The plotting, full of daring escapes, near-misses, and orchestrated conveniences, is definitely far-fetched, but it's easy to swallow all the same within the film's established absurdist context. That the picture isn't afraid to follow up a blood-drenched fight where Remy takes out roughly fifty bad guys using little more than a knife and hacksaw with a sex scene that replaces conventional intercourse with ripping flesh and disembowelments pretty much lets the viewer know director Sapochnik is interested in going to perverse places beyond the cinematic same old-same old. If nothing else, David Cronenberg would be proud.
For most of its running time, "Repo Men" is better and more entertaining than it has any right to be. The narrative keeps moving and stays enthralling while Remy's location of his true heart only after he receives an artificial one is irony certainly not lost upon anyone. Set-pieces, like one set in an airport and another in a decrepit abandoned warehouse, are competently shot and edited with a concentration on rising tensions. There comes a point near the end where the screen could have segued into end credits and you'd have yourself a fairly crafty sci-fi thriller. Disastrously, director Miguel Sapochnik cannot leave well enough alone and sets about turning the rousing previous thirty minutes on their head for the solitary reason of trying to be clever for clever's sake. Instead, he comes off as more derivative than if he'd simply taken the conventional route. The floor doesn't drop out until the movie's last two minutes, but when it does it fatally destroys the film's entire mainframe and all the good will that has been built up. Though subtly telegraphed in retrospect, the conclusion nonetheless plays like a filthy, deflating trick that single-handedly sucks the enthusiasm out of the viewer and leaves one feeling depressed and cheated.
Not the first person you'd expect to slide into the role of an ass-kicking action star, Jude Law (2009's "Sherlock Holmes") has nonetheless bulked up a bit and does well meeting both the physical and emotional demands of the part. It would be easy to dislike Remy, a man who starts off as a ruthless killer, but his recognition in learning how wrong he's been mixed with his attempts to make amends the only way he knows how keep him from being thoroughly despicable. Forest Whitaker, better here than in the woeful recent "Our Family Wedding," provides able support as Jake, a repo man himself who draws a line at being sent to kill his best friend. Alice Braga (2007's "I Am Legend") is an offbeat choice for the female lead as Beth, but the right one, making the most of a wounded-in-every-way character who, in lesser hands, could have simply been a typical love interest being pulled along by the strong, macho hero. As villainous heavy Frank, Liev Schreiber (2009's "Taking Woodstock") is suitably authoritative, his well-groomed appearance unable to shield him from the blood on his hands and everywhere else. Of special note in one-scene roles of scene-stealing proportions, Liza Lapira (2008's "21") and Tiffany Espensen (2009's "Fame") are hilarious as a black market mother-child aesthetician-surgeon team (in that order).
When "Repo Men" goes right, it works like gangbusters for the strong of stomach. When it goes wrong, it's big enough to prove irredeemable. Director Miguel Sapochnik proves his worth as a promising new filmmaker with a clear-cut vision, but he is done in this time by overstepping his boundaries and trying to do more—and by effect, does less—with what should have been a twisted, straightforward action pic. The twist he ultimately provides does not bring depth to the film's characters or themes. Instead, it is akin to the old, lazy standby of being "just a dream," rendering what has come before as unnecessary and pointless. It's a shot in the foot, and the splattered limb is beyond repair.