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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 19, 2010

Bloody slasher movie lacks wit, drollery


By Roger Moore
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The repo men and salesman from left, Forest Whitaker, Jude Law and Liev Schreiber deal in artificial organs for a powerful corporation.

Universal Pictures

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'REPO MEN'

R, for bloody violence, grisly images, language and some sexuality/nudity

110 minutes

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In a future where a bankrupt government has at last ceded all power to corporations, none is more powerful than The Union.

As companies go, The Union is today's nightmares writ large a for-profit healthcare company that operates like a mortgage or car loan specialist. What they're pitching is health, longevity, life itself. The Union makes artificial organs and sells them with a "What's it going to take to put this pancreas in you?" hustle.

But what happens if you can't pay your note? They send repo men, armed with tasers and portable field surgery kits chest spreader included to cut that metal-and-plastic heart, lung, liver, what have you, out on the spot. Get in arrears and these heartless hacks will butcher you.

"Repo Men" is a slasher movie masquerading as social satire, a blood-spattered gorefest about the heartless thugs who do such work, and what happens when one of those thugs (Jude Law) has to get his own implant and can't swing the payments.

Remy (Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) left the military to become top earners for The Union cold-blooded killers with their little metal ice chests to tote their retrieved organs in, callously running up their score the way they used to tally kills in battle or on their favorite video game. Remy's wife (Carice van Houten from "Black Book" and "Valkyrie") wants him out of repo and into sales.

She's morally outraged, but apparently only up to a point. She wants Remy to become another Frank (Liev Schreiber), an amoral, fast-talking closer whose motto is "We want them buying, not thinking" as he pushes payment plans over paid-in-full "Artif-orgs."

Remy loses his family over the horrors of his job, loses his heart in an accident and goes on the run with the legions of other "payment past due" organ recipients, among them the singer Beth (Alice Braga), whose many transplants suggest a self-destructive lifestyle or a desire to go all-bionic some day. Here "Repo Men" morphs into a standard-issue "underground vs. murderous tyranny" tale, with bloody fights replacing the stomach-turning surgeries that have been its hallmark up until now.

Whatever gruesome metaphor for our financially irresponsible age this might have been is lost in the arterial spray and shots of scalpels slicing skin. The film borrows from the awful cult film "Repo! The Genetic Opera" and an infamous Monty Python organ repossession sketch (shown in one scene) from "The Meaning of Life."

Remy narrates our tale as a droll memoirist who wants to type up a book that tells "the truth." The narration isn't nearly droll enough, with not a quotable line in it.

This is not a bad cast, but whatever wit the script aims for is lost in the queasy details director Miguel Sapochnik found more fascinating. He does stage one "Oldboy" homage in the finale, bless his heart. Schreiber is the only player in on the joke. And third-act attempts at playing this as dark comedy are too little, too bloody late.