Repo Men

Repo Men (2010) movie poster

(2010) director Miguel Sapochnik
viewed: 09/12/10

Not to be confused with Repo Man (1984) (with which it has nothing in common), nor to be confused with Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) (with which is shares the concept of repossessing artificial internal organs), Repo Men is a gory sci-fi black comedy.

The concept, as Jude Law spells it out in voice-over in the opening, is that “if you don’t make payments on your car, it gets repossessed; if you don’t make payments on your house, it gets repossessed,” so in a future where high-tech artificial replacement organs are expensively available, these “repo men” will come, zap you into unconsciousness, and forcibly remove the items and return them to the company.  Of course, this type of “surgery” is typically unhygienic and fatal.  So, Jude Law and Forest Whitaker aren’t simply agents retrieving property rightfully owned by the corporation, but are essentially and literally killing the delinquent customers.  With glee.

But Law’s wife doesn’t like his hours, wants him to move into sales, and when he fails to do this, she leaves him.  And when Law plans to make the change, his last retrieval runs awry and he becomes seriously injured.  In fact, he ends up requiring an artificial heart.  He goes from company man to client.  And none to happily.

Law’s character undergoes a multifaceted “change of heart”.  Once he has an organ on which he owes so much money, he suddenly realizes how many peoples’ lives he’s destroyed in “heartlessly” repossessing products that keep people alive.  With his artificial heart comes his conscience.  But this doesn’t work well for his partner Whitaker nor his boss, Liev Schrieber.  They want him to just keep killing willy-nilly, pulling back all the unpaid for devices and go on being who he is.

Law’s changed perspective leads him to meet Beth, played by Alice Braga, a woman with many artificial components, who is on the run from the company and its repo men.  This sort of opens a door to the idea of people who would have many unnecessary surgeries and “improvements” and “enhancements”, perhaps an interesting point of projection.  But the film isn’t too good at being sophisticated science fiction.  It’s far more glib and comical satire.  But largely in the broad strokes.

The film received pretty bad reviews when it was released earlier this year, and it’s no great shakes.  It falls a little between genres with its comedy element being higher than your average sci-fi action film, but it also relies rather heavily on the drama and action for its entertainment as well.  And really, there is quite a shallowness to the whole proceedings if we are to think that our main protagonist/hero has a moral level only when he becomes one of the clients.

The film is quite gruesome and violent (I did watch the “unrated” version), but the positioning of the viewer in regards to how one is supposed to feel about the violence is a little weird.  We’re supposed to laugh at these two guys, laughing it up themselves, as they dismember person after person, just another day at the office.  But it’s kind of disturbing.  They’re like licensed serial killers.

And towards the end, there is a lot of weird focus on Braga’s artificial and real body, the brutalization she goes through fixing her robotic knee, with gaping wound and pouring blood.  And in a scene in which each component must be reached to be “scanned”, opening up a living, unanesthetized person is played for laughs (and eroticized). Actually, as far as body issues, this film could give a student/analyst a lot to work with.

Ultimately, I didn’t think the film was horrible.  Law and Whitaker are likable actors and Schreiber and Braga are enjoyable too.   And while the film mixes comedy and bloody, repulsive violence in ways that certainly are cause for myriads of mixed reactions, the thing as a whole has more to offer than not.  I consider my reaction mixed-to-positive, but unsettled.  How many stars does that qualify for?

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