Friday, March 26, 2010

It Came From The Cineplex: Repo Men (2010)

Not to be confused with 1984's Repo Man, Repo Men is a mediocre sci-fi action movie set in a world in which health care has run chillingly amok. People can replace their faulty bodily organs with pricey, hi-tech mechanical versions. Just don't fall behind on your payments though, or the company will come calling to repossess your mechanical liver. Even if you're still using it.

It's all very bloody, and more than a little silly.

The idea of a health care corporation that can break into your home, cut out your organs and leave you for dead is a terrifying notion, but laughably far-fetched. Is there no law enforcement in this world? The Union is basically engaging in the murder of clients whose only crime is breach of contract. Maybe I'm being naive, but I can't imagine any corporation ever wielding quite that much power.

It also doesn't help that the movie is so blatantly derivative. It cops bits and pieces from at least seven other well-known sci-fi movies, and a Monty Python sketch to boot! There's nothing worse than being reminded of better movies while you're watching a mediocre one.

Spoilers Ahoy!

Don't believe it's as derivative as I say? Well, here's a handy checklist of the movies it cribs from, just off the top of my head. There may very well be more I haven't thought of:

Logan's Run: In a futuristic society, no one is allowed to live past the age of thirty in order to control the population. Anyone who tries to avoid death and runs is hunted down by the police force, nicknamed the Sandmen. Most runners flee to a run-down, abandoned city from the old days to try and hide. A Sandman named Logan turns thirty, decides to run, and is hunted by his own kind.

• Repo Men: In a futuristic society, anyone who can't pay for their artificial organs and decides to run is hunted down by Repo Men. One of the Repo Men receives an artificial heart, can't pay, decides to run, and is hunted by his own kind.

The Island: In a futuristic society, clones are grown in a special complex in order to provide replacement parts for the rich and famous. Two of the clones discover the truth, escape the city and go on the run.

• Repo Men: In a futuristic society, artificial organs provide replacement parts for the rich and famous. If you can't pay, then your organs are repossessed. A man and woman with replacement organs can't pay and escape the city and go on the run.

Minority Report: In a repressive society in which there is no privacy, body scanners constantly monitor the whereabouts of citizens. Backroom surgeons can replace organs with bootleg copies to fool the scanners.

• Repo Men: In a society in which mechanical organs can be repossessed, Repo Men use body scanners to hunt for people who can't pay for their parts. Backroom surgeons replace organs with bootleg copies to fool the scanners.

Blade Runner: Set in a vast megacity full of omnipresent billboards and advertising blimps. A huge and evil corporation grows "replicants," artificially grown humans with short lifespans that are created to perform dangerous work in outer space. A group of replicants escapes and returns to Earth to force their creator to give them longer lifespans. A cop has to hunt down the replicants and has his life spared by one while falling in love with another.

• Repo Men: Set in a vast megacity full of omnipresent billboards and advertising blimps. A huge and evil corporation manufactures and sells artificial organs. A cop with an overdue organ is hunted down by another cop, who eventually spares his life (sort of).

Total Recall: Takes place in a futuristic society in which virtual memories can be implanted into a person's mind, indistinguishable from the real thing.

• Repo Men: Takes place in a futuristic society in which machines allow brain injured patients to live out fantasy lives, indistinguishable from the real thing.

Robocop: In a futuristic society, a cop is injured on the job, and is rebuilt and upgraded by a soulless megacorporation. He then loses his taste for his work, which conflicts with his programming. This world is also filled with vapid TV newscasters who simplify every story for mass consumption.

• Repo Men: In a futuristic society, a cop is injured on the job and given an artificial heart by a soulless megacorporation. He then loses his taste for his work, causing him to lose his job and go on the run. This world is also filled with vapid TV newscasters who simplify every story for mass consumption.

Oldboy: A Korean movie about an elaborate and convoluted revenge plot. Most notable for a memorable fight scene in which the main character is attacked in a hallway by dozens of thugs and defeats them all in one seemingly unbroken shot.

• Repo Men: In order to enter a secret room in Union headquarters, Remy has to fight his way through a hallway while being attacked by dozens of thugs. You might argue that this one is a bit of a stretch, but Oldboy is all I could think about during this fight scene.

Monty Python's Flying Circus: There's a Monty Python sketch in which two men come to a man's door to in order to repossess his liver. Incredibly this very scene is playing on a TV in the background in Repo Men!

• Repo Men: We see Remy enter a citizen's home, read him the terms of his contract, and proceed to slice him open and remove his mechanical liver.

Amazing isn't it? It's as if they took eight scripts, put them in a blender and set it on puree.

The Plot:
Remy (Jude Law) is a repo man working for the Union, a big multinational organ replacement company. His gung ho partner and best friend is the unlikable and repugnant Jake (Forest Whitaker). Remy and Jake thoroughly enjoy their work as they cruise the city for citizens who can't keep up the payments on their organs and "repossess" them, leaving the owners for dead.

Business seems awfully good for the Repo Men. Everywhere Remy and Jake go their scanners detect dozens of people with overdue organ bills. What is it with this society? Why are there so many people with artificial organs in this world? Is it pollution? Radioactive fallout? Poor nutrition? The latest fashion? Apparently it's none of our concern, as the movie never dwells on it.

But I digress. In contrast to his work, Remy is also a family man with a wife and young son. Remy's wife wants him to move to sales, where he'll work less hours and be home more. Remy doesn't really want to switch, as he enjoys slicing up clients. To complicate matters, his partner Jake doesn't want Remy to break up their team. Remy's wife hates Jake, a fact that's obviously supposed to signal to the audience that she's a cold and bitter shrew. Unfortunately Jake is such a tool that I sided with the wife.

Remy tentatively decides to take the sales job, but not before Jake talks him into going on "one last mission" before switching to sales. As he's about to slice the heart out of a customer, a faulty defibrillator backfires and leaves Remy in a coma with a fried heart. Credit where credit is due: Kudos to the creators for knowing that a defibrillator actually stops your heart, instead of jump starting it like erroneously shown in every other movie and TV show in history.

Remy wakes up in the hospital to find that the Union has provided him with a brand new mechanical ticker that he can't afford. When he tries to go back to work, he finds that slicing people open and removing their organs no longer appeals to him. His wife leaves him and the bills begin piling up, so unless he wants his own heart to be repossessed, he has no choice but to hide out in the nearby run-down old-school city.

There he meets Beth (Alice Braga), a lounge singer with whom he has a tenuous connection at best, who also just happens to have overdue replacement parts. What are the odds, eh? Beth has a whopping eleven artificial organs, in fact– most of them bootlegs. The two hook up and go on the run from the Repo Men who are after them both. The Hunter has now become the Hunted. Wow, didn't see that coming.

Jake, of course, is the Repo Man sent to hunt them down, and in a truly ridiculous plot twist, admits that he rigged the difib unit to shock Remy, knowing that it would fry his heart so that he'd have to get a replacement, and that he'd then have to work even harder to pay for it, all so he wouldn't break up their little team. Whaa...? I've seen some stupid motivations in movies before, but this one takes the prize. The booby prize, that is.

Remy and Jake engage in a bloody brawl, Remy and Beth get away, they go to the Union headquarters and fight their way through several hundred Repo Men to enter the "pink door" (don't ask) in order to delete their accounts or something.

I should point out that Remy kills a good thirty or forty  people while getting to said pink door, a fact which is totally swept under the rug. Sort of like Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies saying, "Yes I killed a lot of people, but they were all bad!" Corporate organ repossession may be morally wrong, but it doesn't justify becoming a mass murderer to even the score.

Once they go through the pink door, they enter some kind of sleek, hi-tech inventory room, so that they can clear their organ accounts and live happily ever after. They do this by slicing their bodies open and scanning the bar codes on their various artificial organs!

I would be remiss if I didn't comment on this scanning scene. Because Beth has eleven artificial parts, Remy has to do quite a bit of slicing on her, cramming the scanner deep inside her torso as he blindly feels around for her liver and spleen and other sundry items (and without anesthesia!). Quite rightly, Beth goes into shock and is on the verge of death during this horribly invasive procedure. Then as soon as he's done fishing around in her innards, Remy seals the incision with some hi-tech future surgery glue, and whadya know, Beth perks right up and is none the worse for wear! It's as if the producers believe if you slice open your body your life force will drain out, but if you seal the cut you'll recover instantly. Either that or Beth was really an inflatable party doll.

But before they can celebrate their victory over the system, Jake breaks into the room and again confronts Remy and Beth. But even though he's been loyal to the company his entire adult life, he sides with them for some inexplicable reason and helps them escape. The movie ends with the three of them sunning themselves on a foreign tropical beach, presumably out of reach of the Union and any extradition laws.

But wait! It's not over yet! We then find out that everything in the movie after Remy and Jake's first knock-down fight actually took place all in Remy's mind, as he was so critically injured that he's now hooked up to a virtual reality machine, which will let him live out his fondest fantasies while in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. Cue ironic "wah-waaaaa" trumpet.

Yes, they pulled out the hi-tech version of "It Was All A Dream," the most annoying and unsatisfying movie trope there is. What's particularly puzzling about Remy's fantasy world is the fact that Jake is in it at all. We learn through flashbacks that the two have known each other since childhood and Jake regularly administered beatings to Remy. In fact it appears he's bullied and manipulated him his entire life. Why would you populate your idealized fantasy world with such a repellent creature? And where's Remy's beloved son in this fantasy? The movie doesn't know either, as the credits rapidly roll before we can think about it too hard.

The concept of repossessing organs is an intriguing idea, and the concept of a big scary corporation viewing body parts as commodities is obviously meant to reflect our own current health care debacle. But the movie's derivative nature and ridiculous ending torpedo any effectiveness the movie could have had. I give it a C.

1 comment:

  1. This seems like "Repo!: The Genetic Opera", but without the opera, or the emotion, or the interesting plot or... Well, any of the things that made "Repo!" such a great movie. You probably shouldn't have wasted your time watching this.

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