By Charlie Carroll
ArtsPost staff writer
For Jude Law, the dramatic and thought-provoking sci-fi genre is old news. That’s not to say that Law has moved beyond the genre, but rather that most would assume that at this point he knows how to do it well. Law excelled in his past performances in “Gattaca” and “Artificial Intelligence,” but his latest sci-fi endeavor “Repo Men” falls much shorter than its expectations and hype generated by the movie’s promoters. The director merely threw two talented actors, Forest Whitaker and Jude Law, into a disjointed story that never seems to quite understand its intended tone.
Released around the time of intense political debate over healthcare reform, what might seem “timely” for some is nothing more than empty social commentary (unlike the clear success of “Daybreakers” released only a few months earlier). The best part about the movie is the chemistry between Whitaker and Law’s characters as they laugh and slice their way through a futuristic dystopia based on sexual and violent excess.
Remy (Law) works in this morally questionable world as a repo man for The Union, a large, greedy corporation that produces artificial organs and body parts at a very high price to its customers. While the company hands out the empty promise of improving and extending life for those suffering from debilitating health problems, there is a small catch. If you can’t afford to make the payments on your organ, or “artiforg,” The Union sends its highly-skilled personnel out to recollect the organ, giving little thought to the victim’s survival post-operation.
Remy and his partner Jake (Whitaker) are the best repo men that The Union has to offer, but Remy’s wife disapproves of his job, forcing the former military man to resign for his family. However, on his last job a faulty defibrillator severely damages Remy’s heart, requiring the company to give him an artiforg that he inevitably has to pay for. Remy literally has “a change of heart,” and after the operation can no longer cut into the chests of innocent men and women. His debt piles higher and higher and eventually the young outcast goes on the run with Beth (Alice Braga), a beautiful, young nightclub singer whose body is made up different black market artiforgs. Together the two fugitives embark on a mission to escape from and take down the system, evading the tireless pursuit of The Union, led by Jack.
What “Repo Men” has in a top notch cast, it severely lacks in direction, tone and character. In his major directorial debut, Miguel Sapochnik fails at guiding a coherent storyline. Essentially, Sapochnik cannot seem to figure out whether or not the movie is supposed to be more of a drama or big-budget action comedy. Law has said that the movie is intended to mix comedic delivery with explicit, bloody sequences as a way to parody or comment on the gore and violence of modern action movies and pop culture.
The story’s progression hardly makes sense at times and becomes a joke itself. The balance between comedy and gore feels more awkward than anything else. Particularly misguided is one scene between Barga and Law that uncomfortably mixes sensual eroticism with graphic gore, leaving the viewer even more confused about Sapochnik’s intentions. Ethan Hawke’s “Daybreakers” attacked the healthcare and resource preservation angle much more successfully with a clear goal and style that was severely lacking in “Repo Men.”
The movie is centered on Law and Whitaker’s perception of duty and service, which comes from both characters’ backgrounds as military men. The movie attempts to determine whether “a job is just a job,” but falls flat in engaging the audience and making them think. The only exception to this rule lies in Whitaker’s character, whose senseless love of violence and duty to maintaining order works alongside a personality that is surprisingly funny.
The film amounts to nothing more than a “Blade Runner” wanna-be interrupted with moments of cringe-inducing “bad-assery.” While the violence feels a bit excessive at time, the shock of this strategy creates fight sequences characteristic of your classic “guy movie.” In essence, this is the movie’s only appeal, and a weak one at that.