Repo Men is a confounding movie. Lurching awkwardly between comedy, action and ultra-violence, the film never quite finds its feet, leaving a finished product that isn’t entirely without merit but remains ultimately unsatisfying.
The film is set in the near future where a corporation called The Union enjoys a monopoly on perfectly crafted – but extortionately expensive – artificial organs. Suffering clients are encouraged to buy the organs that they cannot afford on credit. It’s that or death, right? Wrong. Because, as Jude Law’s Remy explains in an introduction referencing Schrodinger’s cat, those who cannot pay are likely to fall victim to the Repo Men, a team of hunters sent to ‘repossess’ the illegal organs. The repossession process is brutal and carries no regard for the wellbeing of the client: thus, pretty much the first thing we see Jude Law doing is listening to his iPod whilst he carves open the torso of a stranger to extract his mechanical liver.
This sort of thing is common in Repo Men. Audiences not knowing what to expect are likely to be baffled. The film’s high concept is not in itself a problem; at times the film hovers surprisingly close to interesting satire on healthcare and appears more intelligent than it looks. More often than not, however, it is rather less intelligent than it looks, and suffers for it.
The at times Guy Ritchie-esque sense of humour and Tarantino-inspired musical choices come and go too fitfully to establish a reliable tone – the comedy itself is hit and miss – and although the two lead actors (Law and Forest Whitaker) are likable in themselves, their characters are not given a huge amount to play with. This is satire that tries to make its point with large brush strokes rather than finesse, and that’s fine, but it’s too much an amalgamation of styles to be truly gripping.
At times the action is well staged – a pointless but strangely satisfying nod to Old Boy included – and the film manages (just about) to maintain its momentum through a bloated mid-section to a finale that some will find satisfying and some will hate. I, for one, didn’t hate it, though the debt it owes to a certain other film (homage or not) is clear.
Served up in a high-concept soup, Repo Men’s morally dubious characters (Whitaker’s performance is strange but effective) and divisive splatter elements (a grimly sexualised scene towards the end in particular) will certainly sour the tastes of some viewers. But unfortunately Repo Men’s real problems lie in more fundamental areas such as pacing, script and consistency. The film is not a complete failure but it does resonate as something of a failed opportunity.