Monday, March 22, 2010

Anatomy of a Box-Office Bomb: a REPO MEN Review

Okay, I'm on a blog-writing hot-streak, despite it being one of those Mondays where I feel like I'm struggling. Overall though, it was a fun weekend, and there was some much, much-needed rest and relaxation following an insane week. I think I slept about 14 hours or something between Friday and Saturday. Yep, I was beat. And yes, if I don't set an alarm, I can easily sleep 10+ hours after a long week. But yeah, activities this past weekend included hitting up a Shabbat dinner, seeing The Runaways (which rocked!), and having dinner with my visiting-from-the-east-coast cousin. Now it's back to the grind, but I've got one more movie review for ya' before I call it a day. So here we go - buckle up, because this one ain't gonna be pretty.

REPO MEN Review:

- Repo Men is a pretty bad B-movie. It somewhat skirts the line between being one of those *entertainingly-bad* B-movies, and one of those flicks that's just so bad as to actively piss you off. Honestly, I think that while Repo Men has a couple of cool moments and ideas, the fact that it just seems to blatantly rip off other, better movies pushes it over the edge. I know some people tend to glorify bad movies. But this is not something to be celebrated. Instead, Repo Men falls into the realm of flicks that just plain aren't worth your time. At the end of the day, Repo Men is a mess. It doesn't know if it's trying to be campy or serious, and neither do the actors. It's ultra-violent and gory, but the carnage is handled in such as way so as to completely undermine the basic point of the story. It's futuristic, sci-fi world is never explained, never given a set of rules or logic or any sense of context, not even in shorthand. We never buy into it as being in any way plausible, and in sci-fi, that's just lazy, and basically unforgivable. Worst of all, as I mentioned above, Repo Men pays "homage" to the likes of Blade Runner, Oldboy, Brazil, Logan's Run, and several other genre classics. Hell, even Crank. And oh yeah, by paying homage, I mean blatantly rips off in a way that just plain made me cringe. At the end of the day, Repo Men is nonsensical yet predictable, cheesy yet self-serious, and not half as clever as it thinks it is. So yeah, commence your "Repo"-related joke of choice ... now.

Repo Men takes place in a gritty future where, for some reason, everyone is buying up artificial organs and other body parts to replace faulty or undesirable ones. All of these mechanical hearts and livers and such come from The Union - a, you guessed it, sinister conglomerate. A sinister conglomerate that apparently has free reign to BRUTALLY MURDER YOU should you be unable or unwilling to pay up for your artificial parts. How this is condoned and seemingly accepted by society I don't know - it's never explained. But I do know that this is a dystopian future a la Blade Runner, because - hey! - there's big video billboards in a dark cityscape and Chinese characters on street signs! Just like, yep, Blade Runner.

From minute one on, you can basically predict every story beat of the film. Ever seen a movie where the hunter becomes the hunted? Where the good employee is betrayed by the very company / organization he works for? Where his very own (gasp!) partner is sent to track him down and bring him in? Then yep, you basically know where and how this movie is headed at all times. At some point in the movie, you begin to think that we are being set up for a big twist of some sort, an M. Night-style reveal. And without spoiling the movie, I will just say that the end reveal is cool for about .5 seconds for shock value alone ... until you realize that it is absolutely pointless to the overall story, and basically just negates a good 50% of the film in one fell swoop.

Repo Men can't even keep it's characters and their motivations straight - because god forbid characterization gets in the way of hardcore action! The whole thing with Jude Law's character is that he's supposed to be a vicious thug who has a change of heart - who doesn't want to be a murderer anymore, and so forsakes his ways for nonviolence, etc. Hmm, funny that about five minutes after Law's game-changing epiphony, he proceeds to brutally slaughter dozens of people as he goes on the run from The Union. Jude Law is okay here, but again, he seems confused about what the hell the tone of the movie is - and rightfully so. Sometimes it tries to be tongue-in-cheek, Guy Ritchie-esque action. They even rip Ritchie's trademark camera tricks and narrative style in certain scenes. Other times, the movie wants to be a grand epic - a meditative Blade Runner-style piece of sci-fi. Other times, the movie is just cartoonishly over-the-top, and might as well be The Transporter or Crank. Like one of the characters in the film, it really does feel like a cobbled-together monstrosity that freely borrows from other movies, other directors, other stories. And while I'm on this topic, let me just say: if you've seen Oldboy (and you should, if you haven't), there is a climactic action scene in the movie that just straight-up rips off Oldboy's trademark action scene. Yep, it involves a narrow corridor and a hammer. And look, it's a fun, well-directed action scene. But for me, it was the final straw, during which I realized that Repo Men had barely an ounce of real creativity in its DNA.

Law tries, he really does. And geez, the supporting cast here is ridiculously high-caliber. Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Carice Van Houten. Forest is entertaining - he's in full-on CRAZY mode. Problem is, he's supposed to be a character who we like, who we wonder about. Will he turn on his friend in the name of the job? Um, the guy, as played by Whitaker, is bat$%&$ insane - of course he'll turn on Jude Law! Schreiber also gives it his all as a smarmy executive at the The Union. He has some fun moments, but never transcends the role of "stock corporate sleazebag." And oh man, Carice Van Houten was so, so good in Black Book. Here? She does nothing but scowl at Jude Law. Definitely a waste.

Speaking of Black Book, apparently Repo Men was going for a Paul Verhoeven vibe. Well, it doesn't succeed. When there's no internal logic to a movie, no context to help set up the world, it's tough to be satirical, you know? Repo Men is no Robocop. Not even close. A couple of the action scenes are entertaining enough, but as far as satire? social commentary? - the movie feels mostly brainless. And aesthetically, it's bland as hell. Blade Runner is in large part a classic because of its immersive, cyberpunk aesthetic. Brazil had Terry Gilliam's surreal sense of unbridled imagination. Even recent B-movie action/sci-fi flicks like Doomsday (awesome!) and Daybreakers (surprisingly solid) had a highly-developed sense of time and place - a visual and stylistic vision. Not so here. Repo Men is generic and lifeless all the way, taking place in nondescript parking lots, darkly-lit slums, and stock corporate offices.

Very few things in this movie make any sense, starting with the premise, continuing to the character dynamics, and ending with the lamely-executed twist of a finale. There's one climactic, oddly sadomasochistic scene that is visually striking, and the one that people will probably be talking about after seeing the movie, but that makes no sense given what's come before. Just a random, quasi-artsy scene inserted more for shock value than anything else. The movie is lucky to have Law, Whitaker, and Shreiber. Otherwise, it would be a total trainwreck. But those guys make it watchable when they can. Whitaker's craziness keeps things interesting.

And yeah, Repo Men is periodically interesting. Interesting enough that I laughed a bunch of times when I probably wasn't supposed to. Interesting enough that it inspired heated debates over its merits among friends and I. Some thought it was entertaining enough to recommend. I didn't. When a movie's most entertaining moments are entertaining because: a.) they add shock value but contribute nothing to the story, or b.) they shamelessly and only semi-skillfully rip from other movies, then sorry, but that's epic fail in my book. Okay, maybe not fail, but ... you get the picture. My main point is this: there are great genre movies out there. There are great, pulpy, B-movies out there. Movies with style, movies with imagination, movies with a vision. This, my friends, is NOT one of those movies.

My Grade: C-

- Coming Soon: 24 thoughts, and a review of THE RUNAWAYS!

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