Sci-fi thriller has great concept but crummy execution
by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
2.5 / 5
The irony of Repo Men opening on the same weekend that the U.S. Congress was voting on health care reform (and holy sweet crap — it passed!) is almost too perfect. Repo Men is easily one of the most anti-capitalist films ever to sneak through the cracks of a major studio. Sure, it looks like nothing more than a silly sci-fi flick boosted by an original premise, but you don’t need a master’s degree in semiotics to realize pretty early on what this film is really saying.
Like every good dystopian film since 1982, Repo Men borrows heavily from Blade Runner (although the “ultramodern” setting here is Toronto with an unfortunately bad CGI gloss: seems Sears and the Eaton Centre, for example, made it all the way into the future with the same logos). In this future world, a lack of organ donors has led to a growing private market for artificial hearts, lungs and so on. You name it, they’ve got it on ice — but for a hefty price.
The main supplier is a company duplicitously named “The Union”. Like Resident Evil’s Umbrella and Terminator’s Cyberdyne, these fine folks not only sell organs for hundreds of thousands of dollars, they also offer draconian financing plans for people too desperate to care about the obscenely high interest rate.
But what happens when a customer falls behind on their payments? They get a visit from Remy and Jake (Jude Law and Forest Whitaker), the best repo men in the business, who work on commission to retrieve the organs. Clearly, the process will cause the death of the subject in almost every case — but under capitalism, if you can’t pay you don’t deserve to keep your stuff, right?
Poetic justice comes along in the form of an electric discharge Remy receives from a faulty shock unit, necessitating a very expensive new ticker. Almost instantly, the formerly remorseless Remy grows a conscience and becomes unwilling to perform the nasty surgical procedures that make up his job. Soon enough, Remy finds himself facing overdue bills — which are quickly followed by repo men, while his insider knowledge is his only defence. He finds refuge in a shanty town outside the city, where bankrupt people like him hide from debt collectors, reminiscing about the days when it was enough to pretend you weren’t home.
Repo Men is based on Eric Garcia’s 2009 novel The Repossession Mambo (Garcia also co-wrote the movie), but the plot is very similar to Repo: The Genetic Opera, a bizarre 2008 musical (with Paris Hilton, no less!). Unfortunately, director Miguel Sapochnik sets Repo Men in the wrong genre. The movieis at its best whenever it’s in black comedy mode, but that’s far too rare an occurrence — and the action sequences are mostly generic (except one ripped off straight from Oldboy, hammer and all).
The result is a film whose first half is considerably superior to the second. Movies about how near-future societies work are almost always interesting, and that’s the case here. And Law and Whitaker are watchable as usual and Carice Van Houten (Valkyrie) and Alice Braga (Blindness) are an entertainingly different brand of damsels in distress, but the lack of clear direction wastes their considerable efforts to hold this movie together.
Still, even though the execution of the idea was botched, the concept behind it — the dehumanization that free-market healthcare brings about — is fascinating. For a movie that succeeds in bringing the idea to fruition watch the 2002 French film Dirty Pretty Things, a movie about the people who run organ trafficking — and those who succumb to it — set in the here and now. It’s a markedly better film than Repo Men— although both will make you thankful you live in Canada.
March 25-28, RPL FILM THEATRE
4 / 5
After two movies set in South Africa that only dared to look at the social consequences of the Apartheid metaphorically (District 9) or simplistically (Invictus), it’s reassuring to watch a film like Disgrace that’s completely unwilling to compromise or make friends.
Set around the same time as Invictus, academic David Lurie (John Malkovich) is dismissed from his post due to an indiscretion with a student. His misdeed is read as a white man of authority taking advantage of a young black girl, and he’s swiftly canned.
With nothing better to do, Lurie makes his way to his daughter’s dog farm.
Soon enough, Lurie discovers that it’s not just his social position that’s changed in the new South Africa. The once-oppressed are now on top and a newly found sense of entitlement in some of them gels into a brutal attack against Lurie and his daughter.
Only after these traumatic events does the academic begin to assimilate to the new country he lives in. Whether it’s acceptance or mere resignation, it’s up to the audience to decide.
Based on Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee’s novel, the story is a rarity given its pessimistic take on the reconciliation of the black majority and the white elite. John Malkovich is the perfect choice for the disgraced and ruined scholar. He oozes that trademark Malkovichian cruel intelligence.
It’s a complete novelty, however, to see Malkovich vulnerable and humbled. Definitely one of his best performances.
Disgrace is far from a pleasant experience. It’s not even conclusive. But then again, so’s real life.
SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE
3 / 5
The fact that She’s Out of My League is superior to the rom-coms Hollywood churns out on aregular basis is more a commentary on the sad state of the industry than a compliment to the film itself. She’s Out of My League isn’t terrible but it’s based entirely on a single premise that Woody Allen, a guy who knows how to make a romantic comedy, would’ve used for a couple of gags and promptly disposed of.
According to the film, relationships between two people whose degrees of attractiveness are wildly uneven are doomed. In the case of Kirk (Jay Baruchel, Tropic Thunder) and Molly (Alice Eve, Starter for 10), this disparity is just a little less noticeable than that between Beauty and the Beast. She’s a stunning, successful party planner who — despite looking like a Victoria’s Secret model — is also an all-around nice person. He’s an underachieving security screener pining for his ex-girlfriend — who’s still living in his house. With her new boyfriend. Ouch.
Having recently escaped from an abusive relationship, Molly finds herself attracted to Kirk’s harmlessness — but Kirk, a nice guy who’s taken for granted by family and friends alike, fears that any misstep could end the unlikely romance.
Obviously, this leads him to step on every landmine possible.
The saving grace of She’s Out of My Leagueis the leads — Baruchel is likable and this should be a star-making turn for the lovely Eve, who shows a certain approachability and crack comic timing. This film, however, is definitely of the “forgotten before you’re out of the theatre” variety.