At The Picture Show
'Repo Men' finds little inspiration from its dystopian premise
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Screenplay: Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner, based on the novel The Repossession Mambo, by
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
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