- Repo Men
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
Screenplay by Eric Garcia, Garrett Lerner
Based on the novel The Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia
Remy – Jude Law
Jake – Forest Whitaker
Frank – Liev Schreiber
Beth – Alice Braga
Carol – Carice van Houten
This Sci-fi Health Insurance Satire
Just Barely Pays its Premiums
This weekend marks the release of filmmaker Miguel Sapochnik’s Repo Men, which stars Academy Award-nominee Jude Law and Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker as, simply, “repo men” in the near future who make a living cutting transplanted organs out of people who can no longer pay for them. The only way it could be more topical is if there was a subplot about Sandra Bullock’s marital difficulties, and to its credit Repo Men is extremely dedicated to this high concept that lampoons and condemns the American health care industry in equal measure. The resulting ratio of ambition to entertainment value is, alas, less than equal, resulting in an uneven but ultimately entertaining film that somehow never quite lives up its full potential.
Jude Law plays Remy, a repo man with a witty internal monologue who is extremely good at his job, even though it makes his wife sick to think about all the people he’s killed in the name of health insurance profit margins. On the night before he plans to transfer to the cushy sales department a terrible accident occurs on the job and he wakes up with an artificial heart… that he cannot pay for. With the clock ticking Remy does everything in his power to make the payments on his very life, but the bills are piling up and now that the shoes are on the other foot (or, perhaps more accurately, “the heart is in the other rib cage”) he has a sudden newfound sympathy for the defaulters he’s been murdering. He’s no longer capable of doing the only job he was ever good at, so when the clock runs out, he may have to do what everyone else does… Run.
Repo Men starts with a clever premise and milks a lot of great moments from it (Remy is required by law to offer his victims an ambulance, but not required to make the offer while they are conscious), yet somehow it never feels particularly well-conceived. Remy and his partner Jake (Whitaker, as usual giving the best performance in the movie) clear out huge nests of people with artificial organs regularly. How do all these people afford these implants in the first place? Most of them aren’t particularly old, either, so why did so many of them need the implants anyway? Redbelt’s Alice Braga plays a character who clearly has an addiction to organic and cybernetic upgrades and she may be the most interesting character in the film, but how can everyone in the future need or even afford to be repeatedly cyberpunked? Perhaps most distracting is the conceit that in this future, legal agreements are so ironclad that murder is completely kosher if it’s in writing ahead of time. So how can it be in a society this litigious that Remy has no legal recourse for an on-the-job injury at one of the biggest corporations in the world? Where’s Michael Moore when all of this is going down?
Jude Law once again makes a convincing leading man, and he’s charming enough to forgive the usual cliché of a sociopathic bastard suddenly asking for sympathy because now he (or somebody he loves) is a potential victim. (He also gets a nagging wife, played by Carice van Houten, to make him seem like more of an underdog.) But the first half of the film shows him moping around so much that when the film finally throws him into a fairly standard action-movie scenario it’s nothing short of a relief. The non-stop chase sequences in the second half of the film are skillfully and playfully filmed and a pleasure to watch, and you get the distinct impression that director Miguel Sapochnik was just as impatient to get to the “good stuff” as you were. Jude Law and Forest Whitaker are unexpected but believable action heroes and their fights are tightly edited, blood-and-guts affairs that are sure to appeal to the action-junkies and David Cronenberg fans alike (the latter of whom have a lot to enjoy in a film that can’t seem to go five minutes with digging into somebody’s warm flesh, or half an hour without eroticizing it somehow).
It’s a shame that Repo Men doesn’t hold up under closer scrutiny because on the surface it’s an engaging little science fiction action thriller that really picks up when the plot finally gets going, and ends most satisfactorily. The film, based on the novel Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Garrett Lerner, who fittingly enough also writes for the television series “House M.D.”), also has a decent sense of humor, on and off the gallows. (Perhaps the most threatening aspect of Repo Men’s dystopia? The billboards advertising/threatening the release of The Fast and the Furious 10.) Unfortunately, the Repo Men’s message is too overt, even too sincere to make anyone question its validity. Health Insurance companies are evil? Everyone believes that now. Nobody needs to go to the future or even their local movie theater to be convinced. It’s a good thing a lot of people get shot, stabbed and then dissected with no anesthetic in Repo Men, or there would hardly be any reason to see it at all.