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Gore mars action movie

March 26, 2010

If you have a strong aversion to watching open heart surgery, then you’ll probably want to avoid “Repo Men.” Along with showing several graphic surgical procedures, it also contains a nauseatingly high level of violence. The bloodshed reaches its demented climax during a twisted fusion of sex and exploratory surgery, at one point leaving the actors literally elbow-deep in each others’ torso.

Set in the not too distant future, “Repo Men” follows the lives of buddies Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker). As repossession agents for a bio-medical megacorporation called the Union, it’s their job to reclaim merchandise from customers who have fallen behind on payments for their artificial organs -- usually by breaking into their home, shooting them with a stun gun and cutting them open with a scalpel.

It should be obvious by now that “Repo Men” is not for the faint of heart. Although it’s being billed as a dark comedy, it’s heavy on the dark and light on the comedy. Not since “Hostel” has a film so openly relished in the eww factor. I thought that I was pretty well desensitized to movie violence, but even I found myself cringing through much of it.

Belonging to the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction (think “Blade Runner” meets “RoboCop”), “Repo Men” focuses on the plight of the common man in a world dominated by cybernetics and greedy corporations. Remy is the typical cyberpunk protagonist. Once a merciless corporate goon, an on the job injury transforms him into a lone crusader against injustice. It’s not until he receives an artificial heart that he discovers his humanity
-- a sort of reverse Tin Man, I suppose.

It’s important that you don’t take “Repo Men” at face value. This is high-concept sci-fi, more concerned with making a point than presenting a believable future. The basic premise of the film is completely absurd, but intentionally so. Its timely plot satirizes the current health care debate by showing us the horrors on the extreme end of privatized medicine.

The ideas behind the film are interesting, but something in their execution seems off. “Repo Men” suffers from an identity crisis, jumping haphazardly between quirky satire and stylized action. It feels like the kind
of story that would be better in book form. It might have worked in the hands of an experienced filmmaker like Paul Verhoeven, but I think “Repo Men” was just too much for director Miguel Sapochnik’s big-screen debut.

When it comes down to it, “Repo Men” is little more than an average genre flick. It will appeal to serious science fiction fans, but its tone is simply too dark for the mainstream. Unless you enjoy watching surgery shows on The Learning Channel, its entertainment value is questionable.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.