By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
In the not too distant future conceptualized by director Miguel Sapochnik’s “Repo Men,” it is apparent no health care reform was passed back in 2010. Funny, though…rather than inspiring the sick and infirm to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, the lack of dignifying legislation has more than ever rendered folks beholden to the company store.
The scenario is nightmarish. While it’s great that advanced technology allows The Union—a Big Brother-like medical supplier—to provide the ill with virtually any organ or body part they need, said firm’s unchecked power supplies the animus in this cautionary tale. If you can’t make the payments on that new ticker, they come and get it.
You see, it appears this merciless new world also didn’t rein in a predatory financial system. Hence chances are good you’ll be defaulting on that shiny fresh liver. Honcho Frank, realized with slimy opportunism by Liev Schreiber, adamantly dissuades his salespeople at The Union from making cash deals. Far more profitable, credit is king.
Morality has ostensibly been expunged from society’s considerations. It’s just bad for business. Which is what allows our title characters to go about reclaiming all manner of innards without compunction. Rationalizing the bloody coldness of their careers, repo men Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) echoingly affirm, “A job is a job.”
Adapted from Eric Garcia’s novel, “Repossession Mambo,” by Garrett Lerner and Mr. Garcia, it’s a wonderfully insane premise. And it splatters a few interesting thoughts. Unfortunately, the portentous, sci-fi facet of the tale is soon body-snatched, lock, stock and pancreas, by a gory and gratuitous fright flick that won’t be denied its primacy.
And truth be told, once you witness our boys descend on some poor unsuspecting debtor for the purpose of literally ripping out his pump, you’ve seen enough. Furthermore, the cat and mouse tale that ensues following Remy’s change of heart, so to speak, follows the usual formula employed whenever an insider thinks outside the lines and goes rogue.
But the especially bloodthirsty should be satiated. For lack of a creative plot structure, the film gleefully repeats ad nauseam, and in various permutations, its confiscatory operations. This continues right up until an ending that, lo and behold, foists on me the seemingly sacrilegious duty of recalling a ploy Dickens at times used in his serializations.
Otherwise, absolutely nothing justifies using that author’s name in the same breath as “Repo Men.” This is slice and dice repulsion, albeit dished out via some pretty good performances. And while there’s nothing here that will win an award, the opportunity for some tongue-in-cheek hamming isn’t lost on Messrs. Whitaker and Schreiber.
But Jude Law, handed the responsibility of representing the metaphor that is central to any science fiction film worth its fantastical prognostications, plays protagonist Remy fairly straight. Added to his career angst, the concurrent revelation that a failing marriage just isn’t worth salvaging gives double whammy status to the grand epiphany.
He flees, but toward what light is uncertain. So when in doubt, there’s noting like a new romantic interest to help put things in perspective. She is Alice Braga as Beth, a homeless mass of indebted but nonetheless nicely put together parts. Living by her wits and a sultry voice she occasionally exercises in a nightclub, she is also supporting a drug habit.
Their cave of Tristan and Isolde is stashed in that haphazard landscape of the future that’s held sway with art directors ever since “Blade Runner” (1982). Gosh, this world needs a good scrubbing. But as long as the rich are comfortably ensconced in their ivory towers, why supply an unrebellious rabble with clean streets and a safe infrastructure?
Going the social analogies one step further, we don’t have to guess what the gist is when, needing a new kneecap on the run, Beth introduces Remy to the unlicensed, black market docs who practice in back alleys. By now we are too numb to be truly shocked when an 8-year-old girl performs the procedure under the watchful tutelage of her mom.
Indeed, there is decent muckraking amidst this distasteful smudge and sleaze…a warning of the inhospitable horizon that awaits humankind if compromise and compassion can’t trump blind ideology. But there’s an inherent Catch-22. Anyone with a 15-year-old’s intelligence should already know this stuff. And this is most certainly an R-rated picture.
Still, beware my optimism. In the spirit of recent current events, wherein the idea is that we all deserve a fair shake, I’m stirred to find the good even in a mediocre movie. While my inner adolescent welcomes the refresher course in human rights, the repulsive route “Repo Men” takes to make its point surely should keep it from stealing viewers’ hearts.
“Repo Men,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Miguel Sapochnik and stars Jude Law, Alice Braga and Forest Whitaker. Running time: 111 minutes