Repo Men, a Case for Repossessing Universal Studios’ Backlot

Orson Welles once stated the birth of the creative producer marked the death of motion pictures as an artform, and Hollywood has proven him correct on countless occasions. Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (and Blade Runner), Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Zach Snyder’s Watchmen all suffered artistic evisceration at the hands of studio executives, though most all movies go under the editorial knife of a third party before hitting the silver screen. Miguel Sapochnik’s Repo Men is one such example, and a very unfortunate one to boot; the cut currently screening in theaters ran thirty minutes longer before Universal repossesed several scenes comprising an integral subplot, leaving behind little more than a gutted mis-paced action flick that manically teeters between utterly boring and absurdly mind-numbing.

Set many years in the future, Repo Men follows the exploits of Remy (Jude Law), an organ repossesion agent employed by the faceless “Union”. Forced to choose between his family and job, Remy announces his intent to resign before setting out on a final repossesion with his childhood pal, Jake (Forest Whitaker). In a wholly expected turn of events, a defibrulator malfunction lands the protagonist a new heart module, indebting him to The Union and inevitably pitting him against his longtime friend and previous employer. It’s not exactly arthouse material—though certain twists late in the film pay homage to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil—and the entire show feels uneven, as if Sapochnik couldn’t commit to either mindlessly violent sci-fi or intelligent satire. Long stretches of boring, unaffecting dialogue are followed by insane, increasingly surreal action sequences; emotional bonds are shoehorned in, faces are smashed, throats are cut, and much blood is spilt. Many of the later action sequences left me laughing at their sheer stupidity; these moments are unfortunately the most memorable the film provides.

Like the plot, most characters are left utterly undeveloped. Forest Whitaker plays a hard-nosed repo agent who pummeled Remy on the playground. Liev Schreiber portrays an asshole, included to provide “The Union” a face. Alice Braga, who gets the most screen-time next to the protagonist himself, is little more than a near-cyborg love interest. Each feels constructed from a book of storytelling archtypes; the best friend, the villain, the girlfriend. Aside from extremely minimal background detail, we’re left with several cartoonishly simple roles and poor Jude Law–an A-grade actor trapped within a B-grade character, encumbered by clumsy dialog and largely-undefined relationships.

The film opens with a voiceover of Remy pondering Schrodinger’s Cat; “How can something be dead and alive at the same time,” he asks. The entirity of Repo Men seems to be his answer. Nothing in this film stands out; there are buckets of blood, all of the glass buildings, dark nights and bright lights we’ve come to associate with “the future”, and a bunch of characters we know next to nothing about. Repo Men is alive in only the most physical sense—is a soulless shell whose only achievement is mindless entertainment.  It’s easy to blame this sketchiness on Sapochnik, but recent film news made known that the thirty minutes cut revealed Alice Braga’s character as Remy’s past wife, a revelation which may have anchored the character’s seemingly insane protection of her with an emotional context while lending the film a sense of balance. The turd Universal churned out instead feels half-baked all around, with over-the-top action that’s comical rather than intense and a narrative that doesn’t have the time to earn its audiences’ sympathies.

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