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Repo Men (2010)

Good news: In the near future, biomechanical replacement organs will be perfected, eliminating our dependency on organ donation. Liver gone bad? Get a new one, no problem. Heart defect? Get a new one, guaranteed for a billion beats, no problem. The Union is happy to aid those with good credit or enough money to afford these miraculous devices. With the aid of these artiforgs, you could live to a ripe old age, as long as you keep up on your payment plan. Now comes the bad news: These replacement organs are expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The payment plan is simple, but charges between 20-25% interest. And if you should default on your payments, the Union is authorized to repossess your shiny new liver. Or kidney. Or heart. You didn’t know? You signed a contract authorizing them to do so. It’s no different than defaulting on your house or car. Oh, don’t cry. It’s nothing personal… just business.

Repo Men is a science fiction action-thriller film directed by Miguel Sapochnik, based on the novel Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia (also written in-universe by the main character), and is probably unrelated to Repo! The Genetic Opera. It stars Jude “Sherlock Holmes” Law, Forest “The Last King of Scotland” Whitaker, Liev “Scream” Schreiber, Alice “Predators” Braga, Carise “Valkyrie” van Houten, Chandler “Knowing” Canterbury, and Robert Fitzgerald “RZA” Diggs.

Remy (Law) works for the Union as a repo man, an agent assigned to track down Union clients who have defaulted on their artiforgs and reclaim them by any means necessary – generally by paralyzing the target and surgically removing the organ with little care for their survival, though he does ask them (post paralysis) of they want to have an ambulance on standby. Naturally, most of their repo targets do everything in their power to avoid repossession, but that’s part of the fun. He and his partner Jake (Whitaker) are considered the best at what they do, but Remy’s wife Carol (van Houten) is horrified at his job, causing Remy to request a transfer to sales. At his final repo job to reclaim a man’s artiforg heart, Remy’s defib unit malfunctions, shocking him into next week and requiring him to get his own damaged heart replaced with an artiforg. Now Remy has a big problem. His sales job can’t hope to pay for the artiforg, forcing him back into repo. Bigger problem: he finds himself starting to identify with the people whose artiforgs he is assigned to repo. No repos means no big salary means he can’t pay for his artiforg means guess who’s on the run from his own co-workers? Remy is forced underground, into the seedier underworld created as a side-effect of the artiforg industry, desperately seeking a way to get out of the system alive.

Now, I was intrigued by the premise of the movie, happily deconstructing the shinier future visions of artificial replacement organs down to the underlying question of how to pay for them and what is to be done if you can’t. From there it could easily go into drama, or thriller, or even black comedy if you played your cards right. The actual execution of the idea was thrilling, and had me on the edge of my seat at times. Law and Whitaker are both excellent actors, and I had to smile and nod at the inclusion of Schreiber (whom I’d previously seen in morally-ambiguous roles in the Scream trilogy and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate) as the lawful evil executive in charge of doling out these super-expensive wonder-organs. Remy’s evolution from “It’s Just Business” to “My God, These Are Actual People” is generally believable, but Frank just seemed to be there as Remy’s foil, the barometer against whom we measure Remy’s change in point of view and growth of a conscience.

The violence and gore was expected, considering the central premise was a bunch of guys whose job it was to take back organ transplants, though it raised the question of how thoroughly the artiforgs would be cleaned before being transplanted into their next victim client. I wondered, though, at the battle training apparently given to every single executive in the building (but in light of the ending, that probably didn’t matter a while lot). Another plot hole I wondered about was how the general public would stand for the sort of legally binding contract that would allow a corporation to cut you open and take back an artiforg, or why there was no mention of health insurance to defray the cost, but my eventual conclusions were “viva dystopia” and “It’s a sci fi movie, so sit back and enjoy it!” If there was a deep social commentary buried in there, I didn’t see it, though it could easily have compared the artiforg repo business to the tendency of insurance companies to refuse to pay for life-saving treatments.

Overall, this was a shallow sci-fi film pretending to be a thought-provoking thriller, splattered with blood and sprinkled with paranoia. Jude Law is pretty, the Union is evil, and the artiforgs are the ultimate deal with the devil. Good for a rental, but be ready to shut off your brain.

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