Jude Law as Remy
Forest Whitaker as Jake
Alice Braga as Beth
Live Schreiber as Frank
Carice van Houten as Carol
Chandler Canterbury as Peter
Joe Pingue as Ray
Liza Lapira as Alva
Tiffany Espensen as Little Alva
Yvette Nicole Brown as Rhodesia
RZA as T-Bone
Health care is on everyone’s mind these days; how much it costs, how much it’s going to cost, who’s going to pay for it. Should it be institutionalized or privatized. We all know where this is headed, a future world were people get their replacement organs from giant private conglomerates at exorbitant rates. And if they fall behind in their payments, company “Repo Men” come to collect.
Oh violence, is there any socio-economic problem too difficult for you to solve?
I am tremendously split on this film. On the one hand it is extremely, possibly intentionally, silly with a ridiculous premise and severe pacing issues. On the other it has an absurd sense of humor that action movies hardly ever attempt. In the end, it’s probably too idiosyncratic to appeal to too many people.
We can set aside for a moment the ridiculous nature of the premise. It’s the style of these kinds of sci-fi metaphors to boost their examples to extreme levels that may seem perfectly reasonable to a 15-year-old but are impossible to sustain disbelief in once you’ve been out in the real world. It is possible to take an extreme like that, like Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men,” and make something tangible and real out of it.
Good satire can work that way, but action movies have not traditionally been the best vehicle for satire, and an action movie is certainly what director Miguel Sapochnik wants “Repo Men” to be.
The Union is the biggest and best of all the artificial organ companies, and Remy (Jude Law) is the best of The Union’s repo men. Having little conscience, a morbid sense of humor and apparently a high tolerance for blunt force trauma, it’s as if he was made for the job. Besides, the poor saps who buy the stuff know what they’re getting into, don’t they? Artificial hearts aren’t cheap and who’s going to pay for it? The government?
The problem is, it’s not particularly good as an action movie. The set up is fairly routine: his wife wants him out of his dangerous if lucrative line of work, but then Remy makes the classic mistake of taking ‘one last job’ and we all know how those always turn out. Soon he’s the recipient of an artificial heart of his own, but rather than making it easier to do his job it actually makes it quite a bit harder as for the first time he actually begins to feel something for his ‘clients.’
It’s a trite, overused set up for an action movie but if the craftsmanship is good enough in the set pieces you can usually get over it. Making his feature film debut, Sapochnik doesn’t quite have the experience to pull that off yet, or the talent to get over his lack of experience, leaving us with action beats that are short and perfunctory for the most part. There are some flashes of visual wit and charm, but they’re more like precursors of good things to come rather than elements of a good movie now. There is an entertaining big fight towards the end as Remy has to rely on a bag of carpenter’s tools to break into a high security fortress, but a lot of good will has been lost by then.
Part of that is because it’s very episodic. A lot of writers have made a lot of hay out of film’s pretty stringent use of the three-act structure, but there are lot of good reasons it’s stuck around as long as it as. In particular it allows for a steady building of tension in a medium where, for all practical purposes, your time is extremely limited.
Sapochnik and screenwriters Eric Garcia and Garret Lerner (adapting Garcia’s novel) have decided to fly in the face of convention though, creating a film that ebbs and flows more like a novel. It’s an interesting choice, but it doesn’t really work, again because he’s cramming it into the skin of an action movie. These kinds of films really need a constant state of rising tension and danger in order to deliver a satisfying payoff, not the fits and starts movement “Repo Men” delivers.
That said, there actually is, if you’ll forgive the pun, some real heart in “Repo Men,” at least as far as relationship with fellow repo man Jake (Forest Whitaker) goes. Jake is like the simplified version of Remy, not interested in anything but doing his job and having fun for as long as it lasts. He’s honestly conflicted about what to do about Remy’s refusal to do his job and what it will mean for him, and Whitaker does a good job bringing that out. We care for Remy because Jake cares for him.
“Repo Men” also has a wonderfully ridiculous sense of humor, though it may not play with everyone. Still for all its faults, I don’t think any movie where an 8-year-old (Tiffany Espensen) performs grisly knee surgery with the joy of a day at double dutch can be all bad.
Not everyone’s going to like that sort of thing, though, and outside of Jake and a few excellent douchebag moment with Liev Schrieber the performances are too flat to draw anyone in. The reality is, this movie was filmed going on two-and-a-half years ago and that usually doesn’t bode well for your average theater-goer’s enjoyment. It’s too weird, too unfocused to have anything but cult film written all over it. If you like strange, dark humor and can sit through a lot of boredom to get there, you might like it about as middling as I do. Most people won’t be able to put up with it that long, though.