On DVD: Repo Men

Repo Men is a broken sci-fi action film that suffers from unfocused direction and irregular shifts in tone. Despite a premise that could have produced either a solid thriller or a bitter pill of a satire, the film can't sustain its own ideas long enough for them to register in any significant or memorable way. Newcomer Miguel Sapochnik struggles to create a mood, but only succeeds in creating a visual rip-off of Blade Runner while mishandling his strong cast.

In a near-future extrapolation of our own society, a corporation called The Union offers its stricken customers artificial replacement organs, obviating long waits for human donors. Like many companies, The Union makes most of its money extending large lines of credit at high rates of interest to its customers, many of whom cannot afford the organs they so desperately need. Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) are two of The Union's repo men, charged with forcibly extracting organs when customers default on their accounts. It's vile work, and Remy is looking to move into a sales job instead. On his final job as a repo man, Remy is injured, and winds up in a hospital with a new heart - one supplied by The Union. No longer able to perform his job, Remy leaves The Union and joins up with a singer named Beth (Alice Braga), who has multiple past-due artificial organs. Pursued by The Union, the pair embark on a mission to destroy the company and save themselves.

The screenplay by Eric Garcia (author of the Anonymous Rex series of novels) and Garrett Lerner (of House, M.D. and other TV work) holds the seeds of an interesting, timely story. Its premise is sufficiently plausible, particularly in view of the economic context in which it is set. There is something interesting in here about the way we live now, the lengths to which we are forced to go in order to survive, and the self-defeating aspects of our economic system. This could have been a gritty, character-oriented piece with some meaty ideas and punchy pieces of action. But the script's thematic core is mostly cast aside by director Sapochnik, who is overly concerned with visuals and gore.

The result is a choppy mess. Some scenes go for laughs, with a clever self-aware wit and comically-staged visuals. Others are Verhoeven-esque gross-outs, with gouged flesh and flying blood. The tonal chaos of it all takes us from satirical comedy to dire noir-ish desperation, leaving us unable to make head or tail of the characters in the midst of it all. Despite decent work by Law, Whitaker, Braga, and Liev Schreiber as the repo men's boss at The Union, these characters feel shapeless, tossed about willy-nilly by a director who hasn't taken the time to sort them out for himself. Some films are carefully planned in advance, with a very specific script, storyboards, and extensive rehearsal. Others are "created" in the editing room, shaping shot footage into a cohesive whole, despite the fact that the final product may conflict with the film as it was scripted. Repo Men falls into neither category. It's a movie that suggests a lack of vision at all stages of production. It's a sloppy mess that is barely passable as a weeknight's entertainment.

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