Blu-Ray Review: ‘Repo Men’ Butchers Attempt at Social Satire

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CHICAGO – “Paying homage” and “ripping off” are not the same thing. A picture like Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” gathers fragments of our collective cinematic memories, and places them in an entirely fresh dreamscape of the mind. Miguel Sapochnik’s “Repo Men” assembles pieces of other movies and claims them as its own creation. The film opens like “Blade Runner,” ends like “Brazil,” and looks suspiciously like plagiarism.

Even the title is derivative, evoking memories of Alex Cox’s far more interesting 1984 sci-fi/action/comedy, “Repo Man.” Yet while that film was about repossessing cars, this one’s a cautionary futuristic parable about repossessing artificial organs. Yes moviegoers, “Repo Men” treads into the same gory territory as the equally abysmal “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” substituting song with sarcasm in a feeble attempt to offset the repellant subject matter. Blu-Ray Rating: 1.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 1.5/5.0

Jude Law and Forest Whitaker make awkward stabs at injecting humor (and, dare I say, charm) into their roles as two sociopathic war vets who fuel their hunger for violence into their work as repo men for a company known as The Union, the despicable product of a hopelessly corrupt system. When someone fails to make payments on an exorbitantly priced organ, a repo man comes to collect it. This involves lots of slicing and extracting, complete with nauseating close-ups. Yet Sapochnik tries to take a hyperkinetic, hyper-silly approach the material, juxtaposing extreme violence with cutaway gags and throwaway quips that aren’t the least bit amusing. He squanders the earnest performances delivered by a cast that occasionally seems in tune with the social satire hidden within this bloody mess. Liev Schreiber nicely underplays his role as the Union head who sees his job as no different from that of a car salesman. The line separating people from commodities has been blurred before in countless films, yet this premise may have had potential in the hands of a more skilled and inventive director.

Jude Law and Forest Whitaker star in Miguel Sapochnik’s Repo Men.
Jude Law and Forest Whitaker star in Miguel Sapochnik’s Repo Men.
Photo credit: Universal Home Entertainment

The longer “Repo Men” lingers in one’s brain, the worse it becomes. Sapochnik borrows the sloppiest stylistic tendencies of Terry Gilliam and Guy Ritchie, and throws them into an incoherent blender of awfulness. The last act of the film is a complete cop-out, yet the preceding acts are equally without merit. Law’s transition from cold-blooded killer to morally awakened fugitive isn’t credible, especially since the filmmakers can’t seem to decide whether they take their own material seriously. The script by Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner is based on Garcia’s book, “The Repossession Mambo,” which was undoubtedly butchered on the way to the big screen. Among the film’s wasted talent is Carice van Houten (so radiant in “Black Book”), and Alice Braga (“City of God”), who plays a character made entirely out of synthetic parts, just like the movie. This film is so lame that it makes me wish I was a member of the dream invaders in “Inception.” I’d have done moviegoers a service by entering Sapochnik’s mind and planting an original idea.

Repo Men was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on July 27th, 2010.
Repo Men was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on July 27th, 2010.
Photo credit: Universal Home Entertainment

“Repo Men” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English, French and Spanish audio tracks, and includes pocket BLU and social BLU apps, as well as an unrated version of the film (running a mere 8 minutes longer). Special features include a series of spectacularly tasteless commercials, fleetingly witnessed in the film’s gaudy, “Blade Runner”-style cityscapes, including the world’s most violent deodorant ad. The 8 minutes of deleted scenes mostly focus on the forced comic riffs between Law and Whitaker, who may have made a likable pair in a vastly superior project. There’s also some less-than-illuminating breakdowns of the film’s satisfactory effects, some of which alter actors’ limbs with startling ease. Universal’s U-Control features offer viewers the option of accessing supplementary material while watching the film, and this disc offers some diverting interviews and typically thorough behind the scenes footage. Law dissects the film’s levels of satire, aimed at everything from the dehumanization of war to the disposability of modern consumerist culture, while Schreiber says that the privatization of health care, as depicted in the film, represents a fairly accurate portrait of where we’re headed.

If only Sapochnik, Garcia and Lerner were as articulate and passionate as their cast. The three collaborators are featured on an audio commentary consisting of back-slapping quips and an aggravating excess of laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. Enough to fill several episodes of “Good Morning America.” They even laugh at their supposed feats of cleverness, such as key plot twists designed to be revealed on a second viewing, as if the whole picture were little more than one big sick joke. The only thing worse than an overly pretentious commentary is one where even the filmmakers can’t take their own self-important work seriously. They sound as if they’re pleading not guilty by reason of stupidity, but like Blagojevich, they’re still guilty as sin.

‘Repo Men’ is released by Universal Home Entertainment and stars Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Alice Braga, Carice van Houten, Chandler Canterbury, Joe Pingue, RZA, John Leguizamo and Liev Schreiber. It was written by Eric Garcia & Garrett Lerner and directed by Miguel Sapochnik. It was released on July 27th, 2010. The theatrical cut is rated R. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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