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In his directorial debut Repo Men, Miguel Sapochnik is going for something unusual-- or at the very least, something only familiar in an offbeat, screwball kind of way. For while the movie takes place in your typical bleak future and has the standard caustic attitude toward the promise of a brave new world, Repo Men is funnier, bloodier and weirder than most post-apocalyptic tales.
Unfortunately, that doesn't exactly make it better. Bearing the clear marks of long post-production delays and a lot of tinkering in the editing room, Repo Men is largely a mess, zipping among flashbacks and action scenes and brutally gory moments with little narrative drive to link it all together. And for all its oddities and successfully fresh nods to other sci-fi classics, Repo Men's story of a man forced to fight his own people after seeing the light is thuddingly familiar, a sci-fi cliche no amount of new ambition can overcome (hell, it even bested James Cameron in Avatar). It's easy to see the promise in Sapochnik's directorial zing and to enjoy the central relationship between Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, but none of it makes it any easier to slog through the muddle of the film.
At some point in the future Remy (Law) and Jake (Whitaker) are lifelong friends who, years ago, got out of the military with a newfound penchant for violence and greed. Lucky for them there was a corporation in dire need of their specialized skills, a corporation that manufactures artificial organs and sells them to desperate people at exorbitant rates. When people can't pay-- and who could pay?-- Remy, Jake and their kind are sent out to repossess the organs with a cold attitude and a quick jab of the knife.
Predictably Remy's wife (Carice van Houten) isn't thrilled about this, and Remy goes on the standard "one last job" when his own heart gives out, forcing him to take an artificial one and inevitably face repossession. His boss (Liev Schreiber, once again hilarious in a bad movie) is oddly unconcerned about one of his best employees facing death, while Jake sees Remy's debt as a reason to keep him in the job. The only solution is for Remy to head out on the lam, eventually teaming up with a woman whose body is crammed full of unpaid-for organs (Alice Braga) and scheming to take down the corporation as a whole.
Focus on the running away and the scary surgeries and the Liev Schreiber wisecracks and Repo Men stars to feel a little like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, another movie that seemed to be ruined in the editing room by a skittish studio and a director unable to tighten the reins. With a sense of humor about itself and a handful of well-crafted action scenes, Repo Men is far more enjoyable than Wolverine, but get similarly bogged down in an illogical story that seems to change direction from scene to scene.
Law and Whitaker build a convincing rapport together, and neither really deserves the blame for failing to build their characters-- the legion of flashbacks that were eventually cut seemed to have been intended to carry all the dramatic weight, and without them, Remy and Jake are simply wisecracking, violent ciphers. Both suffer significantly from a whopper of a twist at the end-- the characters are all we have to hold onto, but they never developed in the first place.
There's a lot of style and even a little bit of substance in Repo Men, but not enough of either to hold the ludicrous plot in place. It's entertaining enough for many audiences to walk away satisfied, but you can't help wishing it had fulfilled its promise.