08 February 2009

Movielog, Repo: The Genetic Opera

Repo: The Genetic Opera, 2008
Written by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich
Based on their stage play of the same name
98 minutes

It's the near future. A plague of organ failures has made organ replacement therapy a new miracle cure. These organ replacements are paid for on credit, and if you miss your payments, a repo man shows up and harvests your organs as payment on your delinquent account. I hear that, read that Paris Hilton plays a not-insubstantial part, and that the flick is produced by the same guys who brought us the Saw series, and I say to myself, "Boy, is that going to suck."

So it's probably for the best that at the end of the movie I wasn't so much happy that the movie wasn't as bad as it could have been as I am disappointed that it could have been better. I mean, sure, it's a completely ridiculous plot by SF standards, and there's no defending the lack of worldbuilding and real understanding of the genre at play here. I could write you a dozen stories coming off of this same general plot device that are better than that found in Repo in just a few minutes. The point here isn't to explore the consequences of the premise as much as it is to build a rock-opera epic with gory scenery.

And as far as it goes, it almost works. It's important to note that this is (as it says on the label), an opera, not a musical, and so every emotional moment is pitched to the cheap seats and all the plot points are slammed home with the force of a rusty chisel on an eyeball. But that's the genre, and I forgave that quickly. In truth, the story of a dying patriarch (Paul Sorvino, yes, Paul Fucking Sorvino, yes, the guy from Goodfellas and Nixon) trying to find an appropriate heir to his empire is actually quite compelling. Sorvino brings his A game to a decidedly C picture and elevates the material far above what it deserves.

His choice to succeed him (instead of his vainglorious psychopathic children, among whom are the aforementioned Ms. Hilton) is the beautiful young woman Shilo (Alexa Vega, best known as the girl from the Spy Kids movies) who has a rare blood disease that forces her to remain indoors. She is protected by her father (Anthony Stewart Head) who acts as a doctor by day and a sort of King of the Repo Men by night. The connections between these characters involve a detailed history of subterfuge and deceit, and are played out on screen by comic-book-style narrative panels. As the movie goes on we get some of the details of the history of these characters, and while several subplots battle for supremacy, in the end this is the girl Shilo's story -- she must decide for herself what it means to be the daughter of the monster Repo Man.

I'm treading lightly on the plot because I thought that was the most interesting aspect of Repo: The Genetic Opera. The music is forgettable, mostly composed of rip-offs of other, better songs (despite a cameo appearance around the halfway mark of the film that is almost worth the price of a rental by itself), which is a disappointment considering that the music is really what we should be watching for. Repo began life as a stage play, and I'll bet this material played a lot better live -- movie audiences are more immune to the spectacle and are more contemplative in general, and holes in the storyline and in the characterization are a lot more apparent in the confines of a home than with real live actors performing before you.

There is a tiny segment of the population that will fall in love with Repo. It's the kind of movie that is pitched at such a specific tone that it will reach certain persons as if it has been encoded in their very DNA. It's probably the goal of the film that those of us outside that narrow group will be heavily turned off by it; no one should be merely indifferent to a film about organ repossessions that is this gory. (Although not nearly as gory as I expected, for the gore is played for laughs more than it's played straight, and I never really felt like I was looking at anything other than food coloring and latex.) But that's exactly what I felt: indifference. I'm writing this a few days after viewing the film, and I find it difficult to really care very much one way or the other about the film at all. It's worth a viewing if you're interested in the material, but a modern-day Rocky Horror this ain't.

Rating: B-

No comments: