From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Repo Men: If I Only Had a Heart… Or a Brain

Welcome, my friends, to Dystopia. Right this way to Central Processing, where your curiosity, intellect, and will to resist are all removed . . . almost painlessly, even. Oh, and pay no attention to the wails of the downtrodden coming from behind that door. You’ll be joining them soon enough. Move along, move along.

Yes, we’ve all been to Dystopia at some point. We’re familiar with the landmarks; we know our way around. The best dystopian stories are grim explorations of man’s inhumanity to man. Others may have less lofty goals, settling for action/adventure against a dark backdrop, but are nonetheless compelling.

And then there’s Repo Men–a near future dystopia about missing organs. Oh, the irony. It certainly could benefit from a heart and brain.

Jude Law and Forest Whitaker play our titular heroes. But rather than going after Chevy Malibus with mysterious packages in their trunks, these guys work for a near-future outfit called The Union, which mass produces artificial organs–artiforgs, to those in the know. The artiforgs are, of course, hideously expensive, and if you fall too far behind in your payments, a repo man will show up at your door to, ah, reclaim the company’s property.

After an on-the-job accident, Remy (Law) undergoes emergency surgery and awakens with one of The Union’s artificial hearts. Suddenly, he finds he can’t do the work anymore. I guess his heart is no longer in it. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But Remy works on commission. No repossessed organs, no money

. . . and before you know it, Remy is past due on his new artiforg. Guess he didn’t get much of an employee discount.

Naturally, his best buddy Jake (Whitaker) is assigned by smarmy boss Frank (Liev Schreiber) to do the repo job on Remy. Oh, and there’s a love interest, too–because you must have a love interest. Beth (Alice Braga) gives new meaning to the phrase she’s had some work done. One wonders if she wouldn’t benefit from treatment for surgical addiction.

Repo Men is further proof, as if we needed it, that even the best actors are lost without a good script–or, failing that, one that at least makes sense. Law and Whitaker are both fine performers, and Law is no stranger to dystopian SF, what with his turns in Gattaca and AI. But here, he has a lot less to work with. Rather than exploring what drives Remy to stay in such a horrific job, the script (penned by Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner, adapted from Garcia’s novel The Repossession Mambo) contents itself with making him a generic movie badass who can only bring himself to care for the plight of his victims when he becomes one himself. Whitaker’s role is even more thankless; Jake loves being a repo man just a little too much.

I don’t know; maybe it’s me. Something about guys who kill people for a living–kind of makes them hard to like, or to be much moved by their cute male bonding rituals, like beating each other up and hitting the strip clubs.

Ah, but at least Remy’s a family man. Granted, his wife is less than impressed with the way he brings home the bacon, but his son seems to look up to him. Maybe the boy dreams of killing people when he grows up. When Remy’s marriage crumbles, he’s so distraught that he quickly hops into bed with Beth–because, you know, love interest.

The movie requires heapin’ helpings of Idiot Plot in order to move forward. All right, maybe I’d be willing to believe that thousands and thousands of people allow themselves to be bullied into buying artificial organs they can’t possibly afford. Maybe the filmmakers were smartly riffing on the health care crisis, and on the greed of Corporate America. Maybe it’s all brilliant satire decked out as futuristic shoot-’em-up. Maybe . . .

Nah.

I mean, really: everyone in this future has artificial organs. And worse yet, everyone is behind on the payments. Instead of hiring repo men, The Union might want to tighten up some of its credit plans.

Garcia and Lerner must have suspected they had credibility problems. At one point, Schreiber’s character makes an idiotic crack about The Union profiting more from reusing the artiforgs than from people making their payments on time. Gosh, and here I was thinking that most businesses depend on loyal customer bases. It’s difficult to get repeat patronage when you’re killing your patrons. Word tends to get out after a while. As Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo said in The Godfather, “Blood is a big expense.”

And oh my, is there a lot of it in Repo Men. The movie boasts more gore than most slasher flicks, including a climax that plays like cutter porn–if there is such a thing. (No, I don’t really want to know.)

The film gets sillier as it rolls along, and features a “twist” ending that’s more of a cop-out than a surprise.

Repo Men is director Miguel Sapochnik’s first feature length film, and it shows. He seems entirely too distracted by the shiny tools at his disposal to bother crafting a coherent narrative. The movie spends too much time ripping off (or, if you’re feeling charitable, paying tribute to) its dystopian antecedents. Courtesy of Blade Runner, we get glittery airship billboards and annoying narration. From Robocop, liberal servings of dark humor and viscera. And what climactic confrontation would be complete without The Matrix‘s utterly gratuitous mowing down of bad guys in slow motion? Thanks, too, to Brazil, for unspecified services rendered. Rather than copy his predecessors, Sapochnik would have been much better off studying those films to learn what made them successful.

But he didn’t, and as a result, the movie’s running time of 111 minutes feels more like three hours.

Thanks, folks, for stopping by Dystopia. Y’all come back soon, hear? On your next visit, maybe we can feed your face to rats–just for old times’ sake. That would certainly be more fun than Repo Men.

rotundoMatthew S. Rotundo is an award-winning author whose fiction has appeared in Writers of the Future Volume XXV, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Jim Baen’s Universe. Though he lives in Nebraska, he has husked corn only once, and has never been detasseling, so he insists he is not a hick.

Visit his blog.

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