Remy (Jude Law) is a family man who lives a double life. He drives his son to school and then it’s off to work where he repossesses organs from people who haven’t kept up with their payments. If this sounds like the premise of another movie, it is (the curiously unwatchable Gothic rock musical “Repo! The Genetic Opera”), and if it sounds like a ripe metaphor for the corporatization of America, it’s that too.
Unfortunately, first-time director Miguel Sapochnik isn’t as interested in exploring the parallels between the credit crisis and involuntary organ removal as he is in exploring how blood splatters on a wall after a nasty throat-cutting.
In a bigger miscalculation, “Repo Men” wants its violence both ways—sometimes the bloodletting and organ yanking is supposed to be savagely realistic and sometimes we are supposed to marvel at how cool Jude Law looks in slo-mo while running multiple people through with knives in each hand.
He may be a dangerous martial arts wizard, but Remy is also having second thoughts. Is he developing a distaste for his morally repugnant trade or is he merely bowing to his wife’s pressure to become a salesman instead? In a predictable and not entirely convincing turnaround, the screenplay makes his mind up for him.
“A job is a job,” says his longtime friend and partner in organ repossession Jake (Forest Whitaker). Like the film’s rich premise, another interesting theme is glossed over in “Repo Men.” What makes Remy and Jake killers? We see in flashbacks that they’ve been fighting since they were kids and they were in the Army together. But where “Fight Club” was willing to delve into the cultural alienation that makes violence seem attractive, “Repo Men” is simply content to make violence attractive.
It wants to be edgy and violent and dark and deep like “Fight Club,” but “Repo Men” never finds its rhythm and it doesn’t have anything to say. Sure, there are a couple of plot twists, but screenwriters Garrett Lerner and Eric Garcia (on whose novel the film is based) are content mostly to turn the tables on Remy and Jake’s friendship and see where that takes the story.
That “where,” it turns out, is a pretty lengthy and tiresome set of chase sequences that bring the picture to a deadening halt.
Yet another opportunity is scuttled when Remy plays shepherd to an attractive young singer (Alice Braga) who has had multiple artificial organs transplanted to give her certain advantages. A device in her throat makes her a better singer, her eyes are a more striking blue, and she has highly developed hearing as well. The idea that society has roboticized itself for aesthetic reasons isn’t mentioned after that and never figures into the plot again.
That said, all is not lost in “Repo Men.” There are one or two moments of great audacity and sardonic humor in this messy, uneven tonal disaster of a film. Never in recent memory has a movie bored me silly one scene and had me wide-eyed the next. It wants to be taken seriously 80 percent of the time, while the other 20 percent is having ridiculous fun with the characters’ situations.
One scene that I’ll never forget features hot, half-naked lovemaking while two characters cut each other open and shove barcode guns into their open wounds. (Did I mention this movie is not for kids?) If Sapochnik could have made a movie that lived up to the delirious heights of that moment, he might have something powerful on his hands. (Or he might be David Cronenberg.)
Instead, the director settles for surface value thrills that grow tiresome and a formulaic story that buries most of the movie’s built-in absurdity. What could have been a gory satire becomes a sloppy exercise in berzerk commercialism.