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Repo Men (2010)

by on 2013/03/28

Repo Men (2010)

“How can anything be alive and dead at the same time?”

* * * *

For what it is – a gore-soaked genre B-flick – Repo Men is pretty good, much better than I expected. I once saw the trailer on a rare jaunt to the theatre, and immediately dismissed it, unimpressed. It seemed to exist for this purpose only: to render one of Monty Python’s worst skits less funny than it already was.

That skit appears in The Meaning of Life and, briefly, in a cameo here. Both it and Repo Men’s early scenes involve forcible organ removal. Jude Law (Road to Perdition) and Forest Whitaker (Species) star as mercenary butchers who track and reclaim unpaid-for biotech implants. Working as a team they out-earn their fellows by clearing out nests of refugees. The action is intense, and the money comes readily.

Neither thinks of their future or mortality in general . . . until the day Law’s character has a serious accident. He wakes with – wait for it – a change of heart, but more expensive than he can afford. Furthermore, he now sympathizes with the quarry he once hunted, diminishing his wherewithal to pay the medical bills. Perhaps predictably, the hunter becomes the hunted.

These two are joined by Liev Schreiber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as their boss, and Alice Braga (Predators) as a torch singer on the lam. They occupy an unnamed city which Torontonians will recognize as a CGI-enhanced previsioning of their Blade Runneresque destiny.

These slick futuristic nights are haunted by some classic film noir undercurrents: prevalent jazz music, old school accessories, and flashback-spanning narration. To indulge my comparative tendencies: Naked Lunch crossed with Johnny Mnemonic.

Let’s face it, though, it’s less cool than most noir. For one thing, our leads are corporate killers. Many noirs feature anti-heroes, but few are as violent as these. For viewers squeamish about needles, blades, blood, or viscera, this is not your picture. It’s more than action violence. The gore on display – even in the “rated” version – suggests a type of surgical porn.

Between the graphic imagery and hard-boiled decorations, you might expect an utterly dour production. Oddly, it is not. The filmmakers seem aware of the excesses, and balance it with lighter moments, thankfully none as cringeworthy-goofy as those in Shoot ’em Up. I choose to see it as explicit form of dark comedy.

Few critics or viewers warmed to Repo Men as I (eventually) did. Until I actually saw it through, I wouldn’t have blamed them. On the face of it, I shouldn’t have liked it at all. Beyond the turn-off trailer and bland packaging, there are still the usual deterrents of narration and violence. Fortunately, their relative measures are enough to be distinctive, even provocative, and yet not enough to tip into intolerable. Faint praise? Perhaps, but I’d gladly watch it again to test my conviction.

* * * *

Rated 18A (Canada) / R (United States)

111 minutes (theatrical version)

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