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"Repo Men" Funny and Good Looking, If a Bit Dumb

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Check out the trailer for "Repo Men," about a near future where artificial organs are as good as the real thing -- as long as you keep up on your payments. (Published Thursday, Mar 11, 2010)

    “Repo Men” should have been a great piece of sci-fi commentary on both the current health care debate and the not-yet-forgotten global economic meltdown. Instead, it’s just an amusing and stylish distraction.

    The story is simple enough: In the future people will buy on credit artificial organs they can’t afford, and when they get in arrears, on “the sixth day of the fourth month of non-payment” to be exact, Jude Law or one of his colleagues is dispatched to repossess the goods. But the tables get turned on Law, who finds himself implanted with a Jarvik 39 heart.

    The film can be forgiven for having a nearly identical plot to “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” the 2008 musical starring Paul Sorvino and Paris Hilton. Eric Garcia first published his novel, "Repossession Mambo" on which this new film is based, in 2003 and claims to have had the idea in 1997. Besides, nobody saw “Repo!” and the conceit is so ripe with possibilities.

    But after putting all the players in place for the climax, the end of the film sees plot points/devices aped, lifted or borrowed from “12 Monkeys,” “Brazil,” “Shawshank Redemption” and most egregiously “Fight Club,” just to name a few.

    You would expect more from screenwriters like Garcia, who also penned the book that inspired “Matchstick Men,” and Garret Lerner, a six-year veteran of TV’s “House,” one of the smarter, if more formulaic, shows around.

    Filming began in October 2007, which may be one of its biggest weaknesses. Since then, the battle over universal health care has reached a fever pitch, people are sifting through the ashes of more than a trillion dollars worth of bad mortgages and folks are occasionally squawking about “death panels.” “Repo Men” sits right at the crux of all these issues, but lacks the perspective to address the issues intelligently -- by 2010 standards. Ironically, "Repo Men" will proabbly feel less dated in 10 years than it does right now.

    As is his custom, Liev Schreiber out acts everyone in sight. As the man who runs the artificial organ outlet down at the mall, Schreiber provides the biting sardonic comedy a film this grim desperately needs.

    Law does a nice job of conveying the perverted joy he initially gets from his job, as well as the revulsion he feels after getting his own forg. And as the film nears its end, he clearly savors the opportunity to get his pound of flesh (sorry).

    Whitaker’s performance misses the mark, unfortunately. His role in the film is key, but his reading doesn’t really sell his character. Considering his track record, most notably his Oscar-wining turn as Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” one is tempted to lay a good chunk of the blame at the feet of first-time feature-film director Miguel Sapochnik.

    With only shorts on his resume, it seems that Sapochnik has the eye of the former art department hand he is, but he lacks an understanding of character development and story arc.

    “Repo Men” is wickedly funny when it tries to be, and the action is well paced and nicely choreographed. But when your film plants its flag right in the midst of the two hot-button issues of the day -- even unwittingly, you’re expected to say something deeper than “profits bad, medicine good.”