Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
April 2010

Derivatives market

'Repo Men' finds little inspiration from its dystopian premise

Repo Men
Universal Pictures
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Screenplay: Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner, based on the novel The Repossession Mambo, by Garcia
Starring: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Alice Braga, Liev Schreiber, Carice van Houten, Chandler Canterbury and Joe Pingue
Rated R / 1 hour, 51 minutes
< (out of four)

A concept should not be an excuse for anything but itself. A good concept especially. Using it as an arbitrary hook to sell the same, just off the top of my head let's say, action movie, is just about the easiest way there is to disappoint (and disengage from) the discerning viewer.

So now then. Repo Men. For the sake of ceremony, I will relate the plot: Sometime in the future, people buy organs the way they would a house or car. Once they get behind on their payments, however, the company comes to their door to repossess its property. (Refinancing, apparently, is out of the question.)

After a freak accident, our repo-man protagonist has to be fitted with an artificial heart of his own, gets behind on payments, goes on the lam and attempts to bring the whole corrupt system to its knees through swordfights and gunplay. (Mostly gunplay.)

So now you know the plot. Except: You could play mad-libs with that summary. Replace any noun with any other noun - change the plot entirely, change the setting, change the main character's job - and you will have a virtually identical movie. The whole dystopian milieu is a facade, trying to convince you that you haven't quite seen this movie before, when in fact you have. It's just dressed up and pushed through the random plot generator.

This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but it is an exasperating one, especially when it seems so unnecessary. Repo Men didn't have to be the empty exercise in action that it is. Just by hearing what it's about, we can envision a satire; we can see parallels to (and/or commentary on) the credit crisis, the housing crisis, the banking and insurance industries, health care, capitalism . . .

And yet what we see on screen is an utter lack of interest in exploring any of that. Or any of anything. The futuristic setting and all its idiosyncracies just sit there, floating in the background like a mirage. Here's a true marker of success for any film that purports to create its own world, or its own vision of ours: Do we get a chance to really live in this world? Does it sink in? Do the surroundings become as vividly understood as the plot itself? Or is it all just set dressing?

In the case of Repo Men, it's the latter. Only one scene in the entire film gave me any inkling that there was ever a point to all this, or an idea behind it. The sequence takes place between two characters and essentially amounts to a grotesque sex scene - with internal organs taking the place of genitals, nipples, etc. (That's not as gross as it sounds.)

But that sense of purpose is missing from the rest of the film. Everything else is auto-pilot. Let's take our hero, Remy (Jude Law), for example. What characteristics does he bring to the table that aren't required by the plot? Beats me. OK, fine, let's look at the characters around him. Does Remy have a partner with whom he's been best friends since they were kids? Of course he does. Is Remy's wife fed up with him and threatening to leave? Of course she is.

That's the best they could come up with? Not only a half-baked idea (and that's being kind), but a stockpile of bland stock characters, too?

Only the charisma of actors like Law and Forest Whitaker saves the film from dragging into complete tedium. Still, their charisma only gets the film so far. From moment to moment, we feel like we could be watching any number of other action movies. Even the defining action setpiece of Repo Men is lifted from a far-superior sequence in Chan-wook Park's Oldboy, a far superior film.

When you see a movie like this, you wonder whether what you're seeing is the shards left over from a once-promising idea diluted by too many studio fingerprints, or if someone's legitimately bright idea hit a wall, and turning it into a generic action flick was simply the path of least resistance. Either way, it seems like an opportunity wasted.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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