Thursday, March 25, 2010


No, “Dreamer” director Miguel Sapochnik’s violent, outlandish science fiction thriller “Repo Men,” co-starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, bears no relation to director Alex Cox’s cult hit “Repo Man” (1986), with Emilio Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton, about repossessing automobiles. Instead, “Repo Men” (** ½ out of ****) concerns the sales and manufacture of artificial body parts in the unspecified future and the ruthless ruffians dispatched to repossess these state-of-the-art organs from individuals who fail to maintain their payments. Although it features many suspenseful scenes, some appealing characters and charismatic performances, “Repo Men” looks more often than not like an uneven blend of “Brazil” and “Blade Runner” with an ending that leaves an unsavory taste in your mouth.

Derived from Eric Garcia's 2009 novel "The Repossession Mambo,” this slickly-produced dystopian chiller -vaguely similar to "Repo: The Genetic Opera"--boasts its share of twists and turns that will keep your hands clenched into white-knuckled fists until its one-too-many endings alienates you. Jude Law toplines an incomparable cast and you’ll find yourself cheering for him, even though he qualifies initially as a quasi-villain. Forest Whitaker and Liev Schreiber play unrepentant villains and they milk their roles for every ounce of villainy that they can muster. An opening metaphor about a cat trapped in a metal box filled with a deadly nerve gas will most certainly offend feline animal lovers, but the crowd that this Universal Pictures release is targeting will take pleasure in the adrenaline fueled action sequences and the high-tech equipment with which the principals deal. Hopelessly far-fetched in every detail, “Repo Men” has some elements that should undoubtedly absorb sci-fi fans. The aerosol foam that seals up gashes in the human body like fast-acting super-glue and the miraculous resiliency of the victims as they endure hands probing around inside them is pretty far-out stuff.

In the future, a billion-dollar corporation, the Union, fabricates high-tech artificial organs, nicknamed "artiforgs," so that nobody’s loved ones need endure the heartache and torment of biding their time awaiting genetically compatible body parts. The catch, however, is the sky-high cost of these miracle organs. In fact, few people can afford loan-shark interest rates imposed by the Union once they have signed a contract with the company. As a result of not being able to manage their credit cards anymore than their debts, these unfortunate souls wind up not only paying through the nose, but also often losing those pricey parts. When a recipient falls behind more than three months on their payments, the eponymous men materialize when they least expect them to gut and retrieve the Union’s property.

Remy (Jude Law of “Sherlock Holmes”) and Jake (Forest Whitaker of “Vantage Point”) are childhood pals, and the best repo men at the Union. They waste no time when they are on the job and show no more compassion that a repo man in the car business. Standard operating procedure dictates that our heroes provide the victim with the option to call an ambulance before they eviscerate them. Meantime, Remy’s wife Carol (Carice van Houten of “Valkyrie”) wants her husband to stop repossessing organs and move over into sales so he can allocate more time with their adolescent son, Peter (Chandler Canterbury of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), who doesn’t see his dad as often as he’d like. Eventually, Carol puts her foot down and refuses to let Remy sleep with her, much get gain access to their comfortable house. As much as Remy wants to accommodate Carol, he loathes the idea of a buttoned down suit and tie existence on a 9-to-5 schedule.

Matters come to a head during one job when Remy visits a musician. As he is about to give the guy a jolt from a defibrillator to take his heart, the device malfunctions and knocks him unconscious. When Remy recovers, he finds himself in a hospital bed with Jake and local Union branch manager Frank (Liev Schreiber of “The Manchurian Candidate”) hovering over him with their smiling faces. The horror of what has occurred sinks in and Remy wants nothing to do with his new high-priced ticker. Nevertheless, Jake and Frank bring him around and Remy is back on his feet in no time and prepared to pick up where he left off repossessing organs. The problem is that Remy is no longer the same guy and he no longer has his heart in his job. In fact, he ends up in the same predicament that virtually every Union creditor finds themselves in and has to worry about Frank sending out Jake to repossess his heart.

“Repo Men” is a darkly-themed satire that never takes itself seriously, and Sapochnik stages several visceral action scenes involving blood, gore, and stabbing galore that may challenge your ability to keep from chucking up, when body parts are repossessed. Like the hero in Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” Remy winds up on the other side and helps out other organ recipients who have gone to the black market to save themselves. Like the heroes in a Sam Peckinpah western, our life-long friends—Remy and Jake--find themselves on opposite sides. Clearly, the producers couldn’t have picked a better time to release this sardonic nail-biter about high-tech medicine as Congress has passed a new health insurance bill. This compelling, sometimes convoluted, amoral thriller shows the two sides of humanity. Ironically, once it has eliminated the problem of obtaining human body parts, our capitalistic society has created a larger problem, footing the bill for manufactured variety. Organ donor epics will never be the same with the advent of “Repo Men.”