A social satire dripping with graphic gore

Posted: March 19, 2010

Repo Men, a cyber-noir with a blunt satiric edge, blunter surgical instruments, and stomach-churning surgical procedures, imagines a future where consumers buy human organs on the installment plan.

What happens if, say, you are 90 days late on a payment? As our hero, Remy (Jude Law), explains it: "Can't pay for your house? The bank takes it. Can't pay for your car? The bank takes it. Can't pay for your liver? Well, that's where I come in." Armed with stun gun and scalpel, Remy can jack a human organ quicker than a robber can your car radio.

Remy, a muscle-bound (and somewhat muscle-headed) ex-soldier, is a repo man for The Union, a corporation that manufactures "forgs" (artificial organs) and sells them at agencies resembling car dealerships. When someone defaults on his late-model Jarvik heart, Remy pays a house call, surgically extracts the property in question, and returns it.

(The company reaps huge profits in reselling units, as its top salesman - played with greedy glee by Liev Schreiber - notes.)

As an allegory of rapacious corporate capitalism, the movie, based on Eric Garcia's novel Repossession Mambo, has many provocative ideas. But as an account of how for-profit big business literally rips a consumer's heart out, Repo Men is too graphic for me.

Those with a higher threshold for medical procedures than I possess might be able to look past the scenes of organ evisceration and see Repo Men more as a social satire than slasher horror. I watched a third of the movie through the cracks of my fingers, wincing.

Director Miguel Sapochnik is a former storyboard artist more attentive to how his atmospherics look than to storytelling or acting. He favors sequences of power violence, dynamic in a Matrix-y fashion.

Besides Law, who is sympathetic but not the first guy you think of for this kind of film (though he was excellent in Gattaca), and Schreiber, who provides the comic relief amid the spurts and the splatter, the film also stars Forrest Whitaker as Remy's partner, Jake, and wistful Alice Braga as Remy's rebound romance, Beth.

As Remy has an artificial heart and Beth artificial almost everything else, they are quite the complementary pair. He is a mostly human fighting machine; she is a mostly bionic well of empathy.

Their obligatory sex scene, which might reduce even David Cronenberg to watching through his fingers, cringing, involves relieving each other of all their artificial organs and joints, bringing new meaning to the term "organ grinder." My dear, I damn near fainted.

P.S. To answer the queries I'm getting about the relationship of Repo Men to other similarly titled films: Yes, it does share the organ-replacement themes of Repo!: The Genetic Opera. And no, it bears no relation whatsoever to Repo Man, Alex Cox's 1984 comedy about the automotive bounty hunter who learns that the more you drive, the stupider you get.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.

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