Despite the gnashing of teeth in certain corners of the Internet before Miguel Sapochnik’s Repo Men was even released, the movie has no relation—besides the basic premise—to Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008). It has even less to do with Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984). But don’t let this fool you, this doesn’t mean Repo Men is some bastion of originality.
The film is wedged firmly within the tradition of dystopian sci-fi. In the future, designer organs—from kidneys, to hearts, to upgrades in hearing and eyesight—are available to anyone and everyone for a price. However, if a buyer gets behind on his/her payments, the property is repossessed by a repo man, generally in very bloody, surgical, impromptu terms. The film follows one of these repo men, a war vet named Remy (Jude Law). Remy is the best at his job—until an accident leaves him with an artificial heart and piles of bills.
The majority of the film involves Remy attempting to escape his former employers—including his best friend and former partner Jake (Forest Whitaker)—and prevent his heart from getting repossessed all Temple of Doom-style. This makes for a lot of action set pieces, but little else. There’s definitely potential for puckish satire and some kind of greater point, but instead all we get is a vague outcry against credit-card companies as an excuse for wholesale bloodletting.
In a lot of ways—some subtle (like the aforementioned power of credit) and some not so (check out the ending)—Repo Men is just a dumbed-down, humorless version of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985). Like the obvious cribbing of the hallway-fight scene from Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy (2003), the comparisons to Brazil could be taken as homage. But the pilfered bits are so obvious and toothless that it’s quite clear that Repo Men‘s relation to Brazil is more to derive a “shocking” twist as opposed to being in the service of something more revelatory. Where Brazil, with its sense of humor and flights of fancy, accumulated to create something devastating, here the payoff is just a helping of gratuitous viscera.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t keep Repo Men from acting like it’s more significant than it actually is. Some critics have taken exception to the movie’s indulgence in ultraviolence. There’s definitely a sense that Sapochnik finds it all strangely poetic—the scene of vaguely sadomasochistic lovemaking towards the end of the film attests to that. There’s also an underlying homoerotic bent in the way Jake sees Remy, and—without delving into spoilers—I’m convinced you could make a pretty interesting psychological reading of the film’s final act and the way it relates to its own last-minute twist. But that’s a lot of energy to expend on what’s ultimately nothing more than a tarted-up version of the big dumb action flick. Rated R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and some sexuality/nudity.