Snip, snip, splosh, splosh. Wielding a scalpel, Remy (Jude Law) shoots a powerful stun gun at another man, then calmly proceeds to slice his hapless victim open and slip his fingers inside the guy's guts. Remy feels around inside -- squish, squish -- and then pulls out a blood-soaked artificial organ. Job done, he smiles and heads to the office. Oh, what fun it must be to live in the future!
In the near future of Repo Men, artificial organs are freely available to everyone from a lone entrepreneur who has shared his intellectual property freely for the benefit of mankind. (Just kidding.) No, the artificial organs are all controlled by a giant corporation named The Union. Trouble is, they're still darn expensive, much like real organs, costing upwards of $400,000 to $600,000 or more, and people have trouble making the monthly payments. That keeps Remy and his boyhood chum Jake (Forest Whitaker) mighty busy stunning and slicing and repossessing organs so they can be recycled into the bodies of other people who won't be able to make the monthly payments. Ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
You might wonder how one corporation has managed to gain a monopoly on artificial organs. Or why the future of Repo Men looks like downtown Tokyo now, all tall buildings, neon lights and blinking digital billboards. Or why Jake doesn't act more directly on his man-crush for Remy, since he likes to wrestle him so much, and even begs him to leave his wife so they can cruise the streets together.
You can ask those type of questions all you want, but Repo Men is exclusively concerned with looking good and bleeding profusely.
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, Repo Men looks sleek and powerful, like a big, well-groomed cat whose every strand of hair is lit gloriously (and improbably) from within. Enrique Chediak served as director of photography; he's shot good-looking horror flicks before (Turistas, 28 Days Later) and he brings a similar aesthetic to the fast-paced action. The photography and the opulent yet underplayed musical score by Marco Beltrami are the highlights of the film, along with one clever, funny scene that arrives far too late to turn things around.
Otherwise, the movie is a strange beast, content to borrow freely and openly from well-known science fiction films without adding anything new or different to the equation. Repo Men is obviously designed as popcorn entertainment, but even popcorn entertainment needs a few fresh kernels.
Remy is happy in his work as a repo man, but his strident wife Carol (Carice Van Houten, completely wasted in a one-note supporting role) insists that he transfer to a sales job to be able to spend more quality time at home with the family, which includes a young son. Sales jobs only pay half as much as repo positions, but that's not why Remy is reluctant to try his hand at sales. As Jake forcefully reminds him, Remy loves his job. He's cut open thousands of people and doesn't blink an eye; it's become second nature, and he's good at it.
His hand is forced when Frank (Liev Schreiber) his slick, heartless, menacing boss, offers him and Jake the opportunity to form their own unit and hunt down "rogues" on their own, instead of working off the leads (AKA "pink sheets") he assigns to them. Remy turns it down and finally asks for the transfer. Then he tries to pull one last job, something goes wrong, and he winds up in a hospital room with a new monthly payment plan prepared especially for him.
Remy comes to learn that repossessing organs isn't quite so much fun when you're the guy about to get your chest ripped open.
Repo Men establishes a cheerful, jaunty tone of wanton destruction, shot through with mordant humor, a bit reminiscent of Paul Verhoeven. Whereas Verhoeven often inserts social and political satire, however, Repo Men is not interested in such things. And where Verhoeven might rip a man's guts open -- and show us his agonized face in the same shot -- director Sapochnik prefers to keep the body-ripping in close-up shots, focused on the latex and syrup that stands in for the victims. That makes it easier and, probably, less expensive to film. So despite the plenitude of moans and groans and gasps, the violent gags don't evoke any strong emotion when watching them, other than, perhaps, "ooh" or "ouch."
Without any context, individual sequences simply hang in the air with nowhere to land. They're good-looking and entertaining while they last, like really good but random music videos strung together for nearly two hours. Yet there's little to connect them, save for the same actors appearing throughout. Even when the characters are supposed to be emotionally devastated, it's too easy to wait for the next little happy shiny scene that we know will appear momentarily. Repo Men, is, at least, never boring, even while it feels as though your intelligence is being constantly insulted.
One last example: Even the most desperate homeless people turn out to be good looking when you scrub the dirt off, like Alice Braga as a singer with more artificial organs than real ones. She and Jude Law kiss and run and run and kiss, and then kiss and run some more, all the while looking fabulous through the dirt and blood and grime.
Repo Men is that kind of movie, mindless entertainment that will make you want to bring an artificial brain along to watch it, while you do something useful, like read.