When thinking of an action star the image that pops into mind isn’t usually that of Jude Law, but it seems he is trying to alter that opinion as of late. With last year’s “Sherlock Holmes,” and this week’s “Repo Men,” Law is pumping up his “Shoot ’em Up” cred. He often comes off as quite a dandy, as evidenced in movies like “Closer” or “A.I.,” but it is hard to both take him and not take him seriously when punching and shooting and stabbing. He has screen presence to be sure, but is this British pretty boy up to taking on the role of the unexpected action hero? In “Repo Man,” I am reticent, however I have to say yes.
The script by novelist Eric Garcia and TV scribe Garrett Lerner, based on Garcia’s book “Repossession Mambo,” is ludicrous, but in kind of a good way. Remy (Jude Law) is the best in the business of repossessing artiforgs, or artificial organs, from those who are delinquent in their payments. About to retire to a much less dangerous position in sales Remy goes on one last job when conveniently his defibrillator machine malfunctions, nearly killing him. When he wakes up in the hospital his own ticker has been replaced by an artiforg, and he is stuck in the same situation as all of his victims. When he can’t make the payments he has to go on the run from his best friend and co-worker Jake (Forrest Whitaker), who Frank (Liev Schreiber) has sent to retrieve the heart.
The script is so absurd as to be laughable, but luckily for the actors they are in on the joke, and as such play it up to ridiculous heights. Schreiber is perfect for the the sleazy salesman convincing poor schmucks to sign away their lives on the dotted line. He takes every over-the-top line, and sells it back to the audience with such a gifted, oily-slickness you would think he were selling ice cubes in the Sahara.
The chemistry between Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker is terrific as well. There buddy-buddy camaraderie shines in every scene making what could have been disastrous a joy to behold. Whitaker’s pained, selfishness when his friend is about to choose his wife and child over their common bond of murdering cash strapped credit defaulters is almost heart breaking, and a true surprise for such a silly picture.
But it is Law’s charm that keeps the movie going. He has proved his medal as an actor in past roles, but his Thespian talents don’t go to waste in the moments between the gratuitous violence. He’s not trying too hard, but just enough, and having fun with the material. He convincingly kicks a lot of ass in the film, not the least of which is the gory finale which manages to incorporate a hacksaw and a meat cleaver for some reason.
Some of that credit has to go to director Miguel Sapochnick who finds a joy in the copious blood and guts that Remy and Jake spill along the way; the action sequences aren’t ever artfully conceived, but they get the job done, and are pretty fun. His strange choices in music add to the picture, as he utilizes some pseudo-seventies soul in spots other film makers might have settled for amped-up techno. Also in the “weird-but-good” choice department was the wardrobe design, courtesy of Caroline Harris. The idea to dress Law up like a mid-nineties UK skinhead, with his tight, workman’s button-ups, gave the film a fun aesthetic edge.
Having been written and shot in 2007, almost exactly a year before the collapse of the housing market, the writers and Sapochnick couldn’t have intended the film as an allegory for the bankers and loan officers who made millions off of the meltdown of a nation, but it is easy to see the corollary now. When Remy can’t make his payments Jake tries to help out taking him to a spot that those on the run from the Union hide out. For Repo Men it is like a crap shoot, and the commissions from the repossessions will put Remy back on top. The location is a rundown housing project where men and women live in squalor, all but homeless, victims of over aggressive salesmanship trying to afford a basic human need.
However it is obvious that the film was actually intended to skewer the health care industry, but Universal Pictures, who sat on the film for almost two years, seized an incredible opportunity in releasing it now, amongst the heated health care debate. If the film makers themselves weren’t aware of the relevance “Repo Men” might have to the world, some studio exec surely understands timing. Had it not been for the higher implications that the script unknowingly achieves the picture may have been more of a throw-away than it is already; with them it is still a throw-away, but a decently fun one at that.
El Luchador Rating: 4 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)