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

2010, 111 Minutes, Directed by:
Miguel Sapochnik

If there's a satirical goal to Repo Men, it's so well-hidden as to make one consider there isn't one after all . . .

The pieces are all in place - a dystopian backdrop, a humorous tone, and all kinds of corporate medical malfeasance - and there's even a knowing narration driving the whole affair, letting the audience know exactly where the hero stands and the end to where they should follow him.

It seems primed and raring to go, except for the issue that the movie has no point to make.

In the movie's future (more variations on the Blade Runner motif), people have the option of buying replacement organs, or "artiforgs," which serve their purpose better than the originals.

There's no public option here; either customers pay up front or find a suitable payment plan with double-digit interest rates and a three-month grace period for past due bills. After that is when the company sends out its best and brightest with surgical tools.

The cost for the repossession of artificial organs is kindly covered by the company, and they even offer to call an ambulance ahead of time. It's quick and painless (the repo men make sure their soon-to-be-former customers are unconscious before the scalpels come out), although the ambulance service is going to be a bit useless for the guy with an artificial heart about to be removed.

One of these repo men is Remy (Jude Law), a veritable expert in his field. He and his partner Jake (Forest Whitaker) are so good at their job that their boss (Liev Schreiber) wants them to move up in the company. Remy's wife (Carice van Houten) wants him to move into sales, although he's too honest for such work.

A job goes awry, and Remy suddenly finds himself the owner of a new artificial heart, the top of the line, his boss gladly informs him. With troubles at home and a newfound respect for the lives of his clientele, Remy soon discovers the movie's unspoken pun: His heart just isn't in it anymore.

The screenplay by Garrett Lerner and Eric Garcia (based on his novel) gives Remy's story from his own words, typed as an exposé to the company's ruthless ways while he's on the run with fellow delinquent buyer Beth (Alice Braga), and it's a voice-over without much to say but a very cynical way to do so (not to mention a definite misunderstanding of the point of Schrödinger's cat).

The tone is a fine disguise but not an adequate substitute for the lack of relatable, relevant content.

The first two acts ramble, mixing Remy's abrupt growth of a conscience, his domestic difficulties, and blatant foreshadowing of the inevitable conflict between him and best friend Jake, and searching for some form of thematic consistency.

Is it commentary on health care? Is it critique of corporate ownership of people's lives? Lerner and Garcia simply don't care.

First-time feature director Miguel Sapochnik gives the movie a polished look and keeps things moving at a clip. It's to his credit that most of the questions of intentions come late in the game, focusing instead on the movie's pessimistic urges.

Once the third act arrives (with a figurative thud as Remy's writing ceases and a literal one as his typewriter crushes a hunter's skull), the undertones disappear, and the script changes gears into a straightforward actioner.

The only way for Remy and Beth to escape the system is to destroy it. Once the script abandons the pretense of ideas, the movie becomes stronger as its plot becomes more familiar. Remy may have moral qualms about taking the lives of his company's clients, but he quickly rediscovers his old, murderous habits when it comes to his former co-workers. Remy takes great pleasure in punishing his old boss, especially when he brings up the concept of refinancing his heart.

Sapochnik fills the final act with an array of bloody, brutal kill shots. An extended fight in a hallway leading to the hub of the company's record bank pits Remy and Beth against a string of besuited company men, who are all armed with knives, hatchets, and all sorts of sharp and blunt weapons (Their company handbook must be an odd read).

Fortunately, Remy has an entire work table's worth of weapons at his disposal and uses them accordingly. Remy and Beth's final act of defiance is an even weirder convergence of making out and mutilation - the sensual side of surgery. It's a cop out of an ending, to be sure (followed by an even less forgivable cop out to the initial one), but in its strangeness, it's at least more involving than what's preceded it.

Even so, Repo Men desperately wants to make a statement; it's just not sure what that might be. The film is a morality tale set in the near future, when artificial organs can be bought on credit, with the understanding that defaulting on payment will result in a fatal repossession.

- Mark Dusjik



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