March 19, 2010

Repo Men

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Repo Men

SCIENCE FICTION:

United States/Canada, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-03-19

Running Length:

1:51

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Alice Braga, Liev Schreiber, Carice van Houten

Director:

Miguel Sapochnik

Screenplay:

Eric Garcia & Garrett Lerner, based on Garcia's novel The Repossession Mambo

Cinematography:

Enrique Chediak

Music:

Marco Beltrami

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Repo Men feels like it was cobbled together using pieces of other, often better motion pictures. I could provide a list of titles but it would be more comprehensive simply to state that if a movie is set on a less-than-optimistic future Earth, some aspect of it (no matter how minor) probably makes an appearance at some point during Repo Men's nearly two hours. Still, despite the familiar nature of the screenplay, the direction is crisp enough to engage the attention, and there are some enjoyable moments (including an orgy of bloodstained violence) sprinkled throughout. It's tough to recommend Repo Men outright, but you could do worse when trolling multiplex halls.

Jude Law is Remy and Forest Whitaker is Jake. Paired, these two represent the dark side to the futuristic American dream. As the story opens, we learn that many elements of human mortality - especially failing organs - are things of the past. But, in a world without universal health care, there's a price. Transplants are expensive propositions; however, like cars, they can be paid for on the installment plan. Those who fall behind in their payments can expect to meet the Repo Men - Remy, Jake, and their fellow workers. They are employed to repossess corporate property using little more than a taser and a very sharp knife. It's bloody business, but a job's a job. Things get dicey, however, when Remy's wife (Carice van Houten) pressures him into seeking a job in sales, working alongside the oily Frank (Liev Schreiber), who could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. While doing his final repo job, Remy suffers a catastrophic accident - one that results in his awakening in a hospital bed with an artificial heart in his ribcage and an expensive debt to be paid off. Having lost his appetite for killing, he soon finds himself being chased by his former colleagues, with only another fugitive, the lovely Beth (Alice Braga), as a companion.

As envisioned by first-time feature director Miguel Sapochnik, the future is not as bleak a place as one might find in Blade Runner or Brazil, but it's no Star Trek, either. It appears to be a world where corporations rule with an iron fist. It's impossible to miss the satire or the message here. Working from a script co-written by Eric Garcia & Garrett Lerner (and based on a novel by Garcia), Sapochnick makes a strong case for what happens when life is just another commodity to be borrowed against, and he does so with a macabre sense of humor. There are times when Repo Men feels like a twisted comedy. Even the climax, in which blood and gore run freely, is presented with a tongue-in-cheek flavor.

One problem with Repo Men is that there's not enough material to sustain a 111-minute motion picture. There's nothing special about most of the action scenes, and there are long stretches in which little happens beyond refugees fleeing from corporate enforcers. A little of this goes a long way, and there's far too much of it in Repo Men. There were instances when I found myself becoming impatient for something to happen, and impatience is rarely a quality I exhibit when a movie has me under its spell. The final 15-20 minutes are sprinkled with small pleasures, but it takes an unnecessarily long time to get there.

There's nothing wrong with the acting and, although Jude Law isn't a prototypical action hero (any more than Matt Damon was before the Bourne movies), he's a good enough performer to be convincing. There's some nice chemistry at work here, both between Law and Forest Whitaker as his partner, and between Law and Alice Braga as his love interest. The connection between Law and Braga is especially effective: they make love, they support one another, and they share knives, guns, and hacksaws when warranted. Liev Schreiber is delightfully distasteful, proving once again that his mere presence in a motion picture can ratchet up its entertainment quotient.

Based on the evidence at hand in Repo Men, director Sapochnik may have a solid future behind the camera. The movie looks good and the action scenes are presented with clarity and verve. Hopefully, for his next project, Sapochnik will have something less derivative to work with. Repo Men defeats even his best efforts to elevate it above the level of a passable diversion.

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