If you took just about any one scene in director Miguel Sapochnik's debut feature Repo Men—about guys who collect artificial organs out of the bodies of those who have defaulted on payment for those organs—and watched it by itself, you'd think it was part of what has to be a great movie. Or at least a pretty good one. The composition, the editing, the staging of these individual scenes show the hand of someone who is a truly gifted director.
That's the individual scenes.
The movie as a whole is a mangled strip of celluloid roadkill, as badly shredded and opened up and not-so-stitched-back-together as the poor schmoes in the movie who can't pay for their new livers.
Repo Men has no idea what it wants to be, or how it wants to do anything. Is it a Dr. Strangelove-like black comedy and a satire of corporate greed and heartlessness? When you've got Liev Schreiber, as the gloriously malignant head of the corporation that sells the artificial organs, laying down lines like "We want them buying, not thinking!" you'd think that is the case.
Is it a Matrix-like SF/action flick? Yeah ... you'd think so, with our hero repo man, played by Jude Law, going all Neo on a corporate fortress while the band Unkle's song "Burn My Shadow" blares on the soundtrack (a song for which Sapochnik previously had done a pretty amazing video).
Is it a Cronenberg-like meditation on the mind/body schism? Sure!
Is it a fresh take on a Blade Runner-like urban dystopia, with a Max Headroom-style video board cityscape? You betcha!
Is it the likely product of focus groups and filmmaking by committee and studio interference? Yep!
Which means that Repo Men is ultimately not Repo Men. It's not its own film. It's a bunch of films trying to be one, as sloppy as all the flicks playing at a multiplex projected onto one screen.
And because the scenes in the movie are a bunch of feral cats that refuse to be herded, you just don't buy the main premise that Law would get into the financial hole he winds up in after he gets an artificial heart and can't pay for it. The situation feels forced, because it is. You just don't buy that his nagging suburban wife would be so suburban and so nagging, but the plot requires it, so she is. And you certainly don't buy that Law would become obsessed with the sultry, torch-song-belting ingénue played by Alice Braga in the way that he does. The fact that in a previous cut of the movie Braga's character wasn't some random nightclub urchin Law happens to spot but Law's ex-wife speaks volumes. A plot that originally required the emotional investment of an ex-wife can't be carried by a random girl whose introduction into the movie is by way of a really choppy and obvious insert shot.
But in the badly tossed film salad that is Repo Men are great moments. Moments like Jude Law and Forest Whitaker bonding over good-natured tazer blasts the way guys in locker rooms bond over snapping towels at each other. There are really scary and dark scenes depicting raids by teams of repo men on enclaves of hiding credit risks. And a great scene in which Law has to repo the heart of a record producer he really admires, played by RZA. This scene is so good it could stand alone as a kind of one-act play. Hell, if Sapochnik had just cut that scene out and showed it as a short film at festivals, he'd get a shelf full of awards.
We can only hope that Sapochnik gets better breaks with his next feature, so that the great scenes he constructs can be cut together into one good film. With luck, The Dreamer, the really great short SF film Sapochnik made with Ivor Powell, Ridley Scott's collaborator on Alien and Blade Runner, might get included on the Repo Men DVD.