07
Jun
10

A Medical Credit Crunch and Its “Repo Men”

I wonder what they charge for a spleen.

Starring Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Alice Braga, and Liev Schreiber. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik. Based on the book “The Repossession Mambo” by Eric Garcia

Some movies really do sound like good ideas. In our current economic situation, and with passing of the healthcare bill, and with previous mentions of a “medical FICA” score, a movie like “Repo Men” seems to have more than a grain of truth to it. What would happen if in the future you could buy a new heart/liver/lung/etc.? What would then happen of you ran behind on your payments and repo men actually came to take away said organ? And what happens if a repo man himself had these things happen to him?

Such is the premise for “Repo Men,” the latest and (not so) greatest sci-fi movie since “Surrogates” (itself based on a graphic novel). Here’s the thing: the premise is good, but the execution… not so much. Imagine “Blade Runner” without the noir or “Brazil” without Gilliam’s humor or ambition. Someone once stated that science fiction was supposed to be dramatic elements with a hint of techno-do. The problem here is that the technology, and the premise, are far more interesting than the dramatic elements.

The movie begins with Remy (Law) in someone’s apartment. The guy gets home with a hot blond woman, they start getting hot and heavy, and that’s when Remy introduces himself. Using his stun gun he disables both of them then quickly suits up to do some quick surgery to remove one of the guy’s organs. He claims that it’s “just a job.”

Which is what he continues telling himself, reiterating it over a few beers with buddy Jake (Whitaker). Remy narrates the fact that if you run behind on your car or house payments, the bank takes them but if you run behind on organ payments, that’s his job. The company he works for gets people to sign up for a new, state-of-the-art organ at 19% interest and if you fall behind… well, Remy and Jake are two of the best at knocking on your door and collecting.

Problems ensue with the fact that Remy’s wife Carol (Carice van Houten) isn’t too thrilled with her husband’s job and wants him to go into sales. Remy has a problem with this because it means that his pay will be cut in half and Jake doesn’t want to lose his best friend/partner who he’s known since 4th grade when he kicked Remy’s ass on the school playground. During an outdoor cookout Jake pulls a job in front of Remy’s house, collecting a kidney from a guy taking a cab ride, and Carol is quickly upset and takes their son Peter away. Remy decides to talk with his boss and take a sales job, but does one last “pink slip.”

He awakes in the hospital. Apparently the defibrillator he used to “shock” the heart of a musician with money problems short-circuited and knocked Remy out. Now he lays in a hospital bed with a new artificial, top-of-the-line heart. He doesn’t want it but the longer it stays in the more he grows accustomed to it. Jake and him hit the streets again to collect on some pink slips and he has… problems. He can’t do it. Going from collector to potential collectee client is not what he had in mind and his attitude towards it all changes. He falls behind on payments and leaves it all behind to become like those he hunted.

Meeting and saving Beth (Braga) he finds that she’s opposite of him: her heart is real but the rest of her body is made from replacement parts from other companies and countries. Meanwhile, back at the company ranch, their boss Frank (Schreiber) gives Jake the assignment of finding Remy and collecting his heart. Jake at first refuses but after breaking in and threatening Frank, he has no choice. The movie goes into action as Remy and Beth evade Jake while trying to find a way to get their accounts closed.

What a statement on the credit industry, if not a slightly muddled one. There are several problems with the film which are not just limited to the fact that it comes after a same-themed movie called “Repo! A Genetic Opera.” While I have not seen the “genetic opera” I can say that while the premise for both is intriguing, there’s a squeamish factor to the two; namely, opening someone’s skin and pulling out an organ, Not my idea of a fun time and I squirmed every time I saw it in the theatre (and yes, I know the organs and blood are all fake… it’s just the thought of it happening).

The main problem: structure. The beginning narration leads to a feeling that the character is ruminating on his job and that maybe there’s a social statement involved. Maybe. I’m all about sci-fi social statements (see: “District 9”). And “Repo Men” could’ve a wake-up slap in the face for the modern moviegoer in the same vein as “Fight Club” was a wake-up call against commercialism. It could’ve been. Instead, director Miguel Sapochnik gives up that idea once Remy is on the run and opts instead for action sequences which, while degrading the concept of it all, actually improves the movie because the beginning is so… muddled.

Which brings me to another point: without the core concept of organ repossession, I wouldn’t have made it through the first 30 minutes. I could’ve really cared less about Remy and Jake because their characters do exactly what you think they would do and there’s nothing really interesting about them. After Remy goes “off the reserve” he becomes interesting, but that takes a while. Forest Whitaker as Jake is okay and let’s face it: doesn’t Whitaker play the same “best friend” he’s always played? I’m not a big fan of Schreiber and in this one he looks like he’s cashing a check. He may have been.

There’s one last thing: there’s a difference between homage and building a movie based off of scenes one loves from other science fiction movies. “Blade Runner” was a big influence on this (as noted in the overhead blimps advertising, etc.). There are a few others the movie harkens back to but I can’t think of them except to say that the end was seemingly “stolen” from “Brazil” (director’s cut). If you’ve seen it and you watch the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

This is the type of movie that ends up relegated to cable where those who watch it will go, “It’s not bad.” It wasn’t overly great either but if you find yourself stuck in a snowstorm and it’s the only thing on, at least enjoy the concept.

My grade: C

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

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