“You wouldn’t steal a car. You wouldn’t steal a handbag. You wouldn’t steal a movie…” Well, hang on now. Those anti-piracy warnings shouldn’t simply be reserved for the download-happy consumers at home. Occasionally filmmakers are guilty of cinematic-theft too. Miguel Sapochnik’s Repo Men is a sci-fi satire about the organ trade, but really, it’s a mash-up of every dystopian drama that’s come before it. The film combines (steals?) elements of Blade Runner, Dark City, Gattaca, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (?!) and Repo! The Genetic Opera (to the point that the makers of that film accused it of plagiarism). And, in the film’s most inexcusable moment of creative licence, there is an extended fight-sequence seemingly ripped right out of Oldboy. A shame really; Sapochnik shows off some filmmaking flair. It’s just hard to know how much credit he should really get.
The film takes place in the year 2025, in which a corporation called The Union offers bio-mechanical organs to those desperately in need of a transplant. If you can’t afford it right now, The Union offers you three months of credit. If you still can’t pay for the transplant after three months, a Repo Man is sent to your house to reclaim the organ (in exactly as bloody a fashion as you imagine). The best Repo Men in the business are buddies Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker); the former is desperate to move out of the unpleasant repossession business and into sales, while the latter lives to retrieve organs from no-good debt-dodgers. On his final job (and isn’t this always the way), Remy endures an accident that will require an artificial heart-transplant…and eventually leave him in debt to The Union.
So, the premise isn’t bad, the execution is snappy enough, and the cast, which also includes Liev Schreiber and Alice Braga, are likable (even if they’re punching well below their weight). But how can I fully endorse a film that blatantly rips off other movies without so much as offering a wink to the audience. The cityscapes evoke Blade Runner, while the depiction of future-suburbia conjures A.I. and (shudder) Bicentennial Man. The thinly-veiled allusion to the stem-cell/organ-donor debate is right out of Gattaca, and to a degree, Robocop. Quentin Tarantino expertly remixes films from the past to create an entirely new beast. He’s Kanye West reworking little known soul numbers. Sapochnik is Flo Rida sampling “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”. We’ve heard it all before. And better.
Repo Men toys with an original idea, only to abandon it in its inexplicable final third. We’ve just emerged from a credit crisis, the result of financial institutions over-lending to people they knew couldn’t possibly pay them back. Why didn’t Sapochnik (or Eric Garcia, who adapted his own novel – Repossession Mambo – upon which the film is based) comment on this unique angle, instead of simply riffing on previously explored ideas? Even they seem to acknowledge how tired their themes are, abandoning them in favour of gut-churning gore and bizarrely violent action sequences. Repo Men, despite promise, ends up being both an ideological mess and cinematic-mish-mash. Maybe The Union needs to work on an originality-gland?
Repo Men is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.