Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Repo Men

"I Sold My Soul to the Company Store"

Who is Miguel Sapochnik and why haven't I heard of him before?

The reason is simple—he's been attached to a lot of projects that fell by the way-side for one reason or another, not the least of which is probably studio cold-feet at risking a lot of dollars on a director whose only previous credit has been a 15 minute short ("The Dreamer," 2000).

The release of
"Repo Men" will, hopefully, change that. Sapochnik's sci-fi noir (based on the novel "The Repossession Mambo" by Eric Garcia, who co-wrote the screenplay with Garrett Lerner) posits a future corporatocracy (the credited "futurist" is Ben Bova) in which everything is for sale. You think unrestrained capitalism in health-care is bad now, you just wait. The scenario here is that rather than having diseased patients waiting for organ donors to supply replacement parts, manufactured items are used instead, manufactured by several bio-mechanics corporations. A franchise called "The Union" arranges the transplants and supplies the tickers and goo-gah's to be implanted, at a cost that is extremely prohibitive. But, that's okay, there's an easy payment plan to fit any budget (the APR is 19.6%, which elicited knowing whistles in the audience). But you'd better read the fine print. After 90 days your account goes into arrears, and The Union has the right to repossess your equipment. They hunt you down, taser you (at which point they read to you that you have a right to an ambulance or any emergency medical care if you can afford it, not that it'll do you any good while stunned) and then proceed to saw, scissor, scalpel their equipment out of you (and maybe it's just me, but I find this scenario very plausible).

The best repo-man The Union has is Remy Stark (Jude Law, he's terrific in this, for once bringing a strong presence to a starring role), partnered odd-couple style with Jake (Forest Whitaker, clearly having fun), but Remy is getting pressure from home to get out of the repo biz and into sales, which has more regular hours and solves that nasty blood-stain problem with the laundry. The decision is made for him on one job recalling a heart, when his portable defibrillator used to stop the victim's heart back-fires and ends up stopping his.

In one of those ironies that they teach in Screenwriting 101, Remy winds up in the hospital possessed of his own ticking time-bomb in his chest, and, having a literal change-of-heart, suffers sympathetic pains with his victims and
can no longer...operate. Complications pile up: his wife, because he's now stuck in the repo job kicks him out, his weakened condition makes work harder even if he can get the gumption to start cutting, and he soon runs out of money and, yes, time.

As if there would be any doubt.

Repo Men" is "Logan's Run" cross-stitched with "Coma," and the Urban Legend of the guy in the bath-tub of ice, but it's in the telling of the tale that the movie sails through the material like a hot knife through butter. Sarcastic, caustic and beating to an eclectically quirky soundtrack (everything from Rosemary Clooney with Perez Prado to Mama Cass), the movie is rude, ironic and fiendishly funny, almost gleefully detailing the trap that Stark puts himself into, and not conceding to the squeamish in the cracking of chests, the popping of knees and the squirting of arteries (there's a protracted operation that plays almost like a love scene late in the film that had people fidgeting and crossing their legs throughout the theater). The action scenes become a bit unbelievable as the movie goes on, and steadily more blood-thirsty. Plus a third-act change of tone—the humor drops about 40% 'round about the time the fights start—hampers some of the nasty enjoyment of the thing. But Sapochnik (who started out in the art department) makes the movie go a long way on a limited budget, and his odd future hybrid—there are blimps, light-rail and overhead lines in the same shot—keeps things down to Earth. Whitaker and Law are helped by a wonderful dead-pan performance by Liev Schreiber, and Alice Braga's third sci-fi damsel role in as many years (after "I Am Legend" and "Blindness").

Definitely not for the squeamish, but "
Repo Men" is a promising feature debut for the director. The only reason it doesn't get a (coveted) "Full-Price Ticket" is because of the derivative climax. It'd be nice if a science fiction movie ended with something other than a fight every once in a great while.

"Repo Men" is a Matinee.

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