Monday, September 20, 2010

Should've Been Recalled

Sometimes an interesting idea alone isn't enough. When author Eric Garcia began co-writing a screenplay based on his in-progress novel Reposession Mambo, he must have thought it was pretty cool. When the film was released a scant year after his book, he must have thought, "wow". After the movie got mostly negative reviews and made back only a fraction of the money it cost to make it, his response was probably something like "oops".

Repo Men takes place in 2025, where a corporation called The Union has made quite a fortune for itself by selling replacement organs, joints and other body parts to those that need or want them. The dark side of this is that if the recipient can't make their regular (and expensive) payments, the organs are default and The Union sends one of it's "Repo Men" to reclaim the part by breaking into your home, incapacitating you, and cutting you open to remove the part, presumably leaving you to die on the floor of your abode. It's in this act where we meet Remy, a Repo Man played by Jude Law. He's worked as a Repo Man for years alongside his best friend Jake, played by Forest Whitaker. He has a good life, makes good money, and is slowly being pulled in two directions. His wife Carol (Carice Van Houten) wants him to step away from the repo aspect of his job, and instead transfer to a job in sales, while Jake wants him to remain in Repo, to remain his best friend, which he doesn't see happening if he goes to sales. Deciding to honor the wishes of his family, Remy goes on one last job...

Law (L), and Whitaker
This futuristic setting is at first rendered in a fashion that I think was meant to be like Blade Runner, but that analogy quickly falls apart as we see less and less city as the movie progresses, taking place many times either in the unchanged suburbs or the decrepit and seedy junktown on the outskirts of the city where people are fleeing repossession. It's this mishmash of settings that is the most distracting aspect of the film, as the moviemakers don't seem to know exactly what kind of future they want to create, or even more criminally, how to use setting to emphasize the mood of a film. Night and day are used intermittantly, and while there is the obvious difference between the stark, uniform city of The Union and the pleasant, innocent aspect of the suburbs, there's little to no connection between the two, no reason to think these places would exist simultaneously in the same universe, let alone the same city.

The acting here is good, though not great. I've always thought that Jude Law was an overrated actor, with over-hyped performances in films like The Talented Mister Ripley and Cold Mountain the result more of Hollywood's search for a new Clark Gable rather than any actual talent on his part. He redeemed himself in my eyes more recently in films like My Blueberry Nights and Sherlock Holmes, and even in this piteously bad film he is in fact excellent, conveying mood in his eyes and visually believing the dialogue coming from his lips. He easily outpaces Whitaker, who seems to be once again playing a variation of himself, with little range between goofy happiness and psychotic anger. Whitaker, who teased audiences with his charismatic performance in The Last King of Scotland, seems to be constantly proving that his performance in the fictional story of Uganda's Idi Amin was a fluke rather than a process of growing talent. In smaller roles are Liev Schreiber and Alice Braga, but both were in better films this year (Salt and Predators, respectively), while cameo roles by John Leguizamo and hip-hop artist and producer RZA are surprisingly good, though Leguizamo's role appears only when the audience has lost all interest in what's happening. Van Houten hasn't exactly lit up the sky with her American film appearances since 2006's Black Book, as Valkyrie and this film hardly do her justice after being nominated for so many awards based on her role as a Jewish spy in WWII. She's underused and overqualified, and surprisingly has not gotten the same respect that has been bestowed upon a different international actress that had her big break only one year later, Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose.

The film starts off strong before dawdling and dwindling in interest about half an hour in, and abhorred pacing means that we're never sure what part of the narrative we're actually in. At least half a dozen times I found myself muttering to myself, asking why the movie was not yet over, why it was still going on. At that point I didn't need a real conclusion, I would have settled for a half-assed setup to an inevitable sequel just to see the film end. There was so much exposition, thinly-veiled plot-points and clues to how the movie would actually end, and frankly it was simply bogging down my viewing experience, a movie that played like a no-think action/thriller attempting to make me think about it's stupid ideas more than I need to. The film does finally ramp up in a final, bloody, sequence that actually brought my interest back to the film, even if it was highly predictable.

The idea of a big corporation being the blank-faced bad-guy is nothing new. I can think of at least a half-dozen titles off the top of my head that use that same theme (including one of my favorite all-time films, Alien), and seeing it here again only fills me with a ho-hum feeling, even if we actually see into the evil machinations of this particular corporation. What bothers me the most is the public aspect of it's evil. The movie states that The Union actually makes most of it's money from re-selling reposessed organs, so they sell an organ, the customer fails to make payments, they repossess the organ, repeat. That makes sense. It even makes sense that there would be people running from repossession who couldn't pay, an underground. The problem I have is that the public seems to know about these Repo Men, and they are easily recognizable by The Union tattoos printed on their necks. So that raises the question: why would people buy organs from The Union if they know there's a chance they might be repossessed? Even if they were desperate, there couldn't be THAT many desperate people out there to keep such a company afloat, let alone with a choke-hold on the government to overlook such things. Perhaps I'm simply being naive, but it simply doesn't seem feasable to me.

If there's one thing redeeming the film (besides it's ending), it's the soundtrack. Though track from the likes of RZA and Beck are not stellar, it's when the music takes a step into the far past that we get a real feeling for the film, as songs by Nina Simone and Rosemary Clooney take center stage. It's flashback music more than makes up for the more contemporary duds, and like Simone we are "Feeling Good" when they're playing in the background.

Let's be honest here, Repo Men is a bad movie. It starts quick, gets bogged down by clutter and mess in the middle, before finishing off in an exciting but highly predictable ending. The film is only 111 minutes but feels twice as long, and I wouldn't be surprised if anyone started watching this movie stood up, turned off the TV, and went into the other room to do something else. The film does have an interesting premise, but it's not nearly enough to keep the audience watching. It doesn't come close to being one of this year's Top 10 Films, as the only movie worse than Repo Men this year would have to be Legion, and that's saying something profound. Certainly more profound than anything Repo Men had to tell us.


brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
brian said...

Jude Law is sometimes guilty of phoning it in, but when he's good his performances can be stunning (see A.I. or Gattaca, for examples).

Opinioness of the World said...

@Brian, I completely agree with you on Law's performance in 'A.I.' Law's stunning portrayal adds depth to the heartbreaking film.