EDITOR’S NOTE: I should have completed this review week’s ago, but the film simply made my brain hurt too much; I had to take a long break before returning to finish this write-up.
It’s sometime in the future, and guess what? The future sucks. Surprise, surprise: a heartless, profit-driven corporation sells artificial organs to people who cannot afford them and, when clients fall behind on their payments, sends licensed hit men to reclaim the property (called “artiforgs”) . But that’s not the part that sucks. No, the part that really sucks is that everybody in this future is so freakin’ stupid that they don’t deserve to live – let alone occupy two hours of our time in the theatre – and yet there they are, up on the screen, big as life, acting as though what they do makes sense.
Where to start? Well, let’s start with the evil corporation, led by Frank (Liev Schreiber), who in an intriguing throw-away line says he doesn’t want his top repo man Remy (Jude Law) scaring the customers, because then they will pay in full immediately instead of in installments with interest, the latter of which is more profitable. At first the idea seems to make sense, in a devious kind of way: jack up the selling price so that the long-term plan is the only viable alternative, forcing customers to pay exorbitant interest rates for years if not decades. However, this profit-optimization scheme works only if the customers continue making payments. The mathematical calculus breaks down if customers are continuously defaulting – which certainly seems to be the case here. I’m willing to grant that the the plot, by its very nature, will not introduce us to many paying customers, but we never see any, leaving us to wonder whether Frank’s scheme is deliberately designed to make everyone default. Does Frank’s balance sheet really show more black ink if the company routinely retrieves used organs after a few payments, instead of receiving a one-time check for $650,000?
And how about those customers? The sign up; they don’t pay, and yet each and every one of them seems surprised when Remy shows up. Either they go about their lives like normal, doing nothing to avoid the inevitable, or they conveniently gather together in groups so that the repo men can easily score lots of repossessed organs with relatively little footwork.
And how about those repo men? Remy’s partner Jake (Forest Whitaker) opts to score a victim outside Remy’s house – during an afternoon barbecue, no less – with Remy’s approval if not active participation. And both of them seem surprised when this brilliant plan leaves Remy’s wife understandably furious that her husband’s job has come both figuratively and literally to her doorstep – leaving a trail of blood, no less.
And how about that wife? Carol (Carice Van Houten) wants Remy to phase out of the repo end of the business and move into the company’s sales division, as if the ethics of the job are of less concern than the messy mechanics. When Remy gives up repossession after a job goes wrong, putting him in the hospital and leaving him with a company-owned artiforg heart, Carol throws him out of the house anyway, claiming he made his decision when he went out on that last job. The operative word here is “last,” as in: he was about to transition to sales, just the way she wanted.
And all of this happens in a world that barely seems to notice. I’d be further willing to allow that, as long as the repo men were low key and their activities were relatively infrequent, this kind of thing could go on relatively below the radar. However, we’re seeing an absolute epidemic of defaults. And even if the activities were legal in regards to customers, that still leaves the question of collateral damage (Remy tases one customer’s girlfriend, who is never seen again, leaving us to wonder why she doesn’t file charges, or at least a lawsuit).
Incredibly, all of this is only the tip of the idiocy iceberg, which only full emerges in the last reel, when the full-on silliness erupts across the screen with enough force to make what preceded seem almost logical by comparison. Things get so ridiculous that the filmmakers themselves seem embarrassed, resorting to a lame surprise ending (lifted from BRAZIL) that is intended to wipe away the nonsense but only manages to be even more ridiculous than what it replaces. (Sorry if this sounds like a spoiler, but truth be told, there is no way to spoil something so rotten in the first place.)
I could go on and on, outlining each and every intelligenc-insulting moment, but I intend to be kinder to you, dear reader, than the film was to me…
If there is a redeeming element to REPO MEN, it is the performances of Law, Whitaker, and Schreiber. Although the story is too ridiculous for them to perform up to their best levels, they all manage to infuse a sense of credibility to their characters, even when the screenplay is forcing them to do incredible things. For example, Remy’s reclamation of an organ from a musician whose work he respects actually evokes a twinge of emotion, even though you wonder whether his boss’s ever worry about conflict of interest. But then you realize they don’t: when Remy goes rogue, Schreiber’s character sends Remy’s best friend after him, and as unlikely as this is, Whitaker almost sells it.
The essential idea of a tough man in an immoral job, forced by circumstances to re-evaluate his life’s work, is a strong one, and presumably a good movie could have been made from it. Unfortunately, REPO MEN shirks the dramatic change-of-heart, taking it for granted instead of exploring it dramatically, emphasizing mindless action at the expense of story-telling. Too bad we can’t repossess this idea and install it into a good movie.
REPO MEN(March 19, 2010). Directed by Miguel Sapochnik. Screenplay by Eric Garcia & Garret Lernier, based on Garcia’s novel The Repossession Mambo. Cast: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Lieve Schreiber, Alice Braga, Carice van Houten, Chanlder Canterbury, Joe Pingue, Tiffany Espensen, Yvette Nicole Brown, RZA.