A memo to Repo! “composers” Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich: No, you can’t. And you shouldn’t, forever until the end of time.
No words yet exist to describe how wretched this movie is. It originated as a play by Smith and Zdunich about a graverobber in debt to an organ-repossession man. For some reason, the play was successful enough to be made into this unwatchable movie, an all-singing gore-fest replete with vivisections, oozing intestines and music that, if used to compel terrorist confessions, would violate the Geneva Conventions. Smith and Zdunich seem to have been attempting a theater piece in the manner of Brecht and Weill, but lack any talent for it. Their idea of “opera” is to provide a chugging heavy-metal guitar track, over which the actors perform a tuneless singspiel of breathtaking banality. “I’m infected/by your genetics/that’s what’s expected/when you’re infected.” “Dad I hate you/Go and die.” “Surgery!/Surgery!” After you leave the theater, the effect is hard to shake. You begin to hear every thought sung in this way. “Time to get my laundry done/laundry done!” “Do you think the mail is here/mail is here?”
Brought to you by the producers of Saw and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, the movie is about an evil biotech firm, GeneCo, headed by Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino — what is he doing here?), which has capitalized on a worldwide epidemic of organ failure by selling transplants on credit. When payments are missed, GeneCo dispatches its killer “organ repo men.” Zdunich plays The Graverobber, a whitefaced Brechtian narrator who comments on the action while harvesting organs and selling intravenous painkillers.
This putrescent soap opera is illustrated by scenes of intestines being yanked out of abdomens and musical numbers in musty styles retrieved from the MTV vaults. The Genetic Opera, which should be a fantastically entertaining climax, is dull and dreary, enlivened only by the spectacle of a woman gouging out her eyeballs and getting impaled on a fencepost. There is also a dying-daddy-daughter duet that vaguely mimics real opera. By this point, though, anyone with eyes and ears has already fled the theater.
Visually, the movie is a muddy mess, badly lit and unbearably ugly. The backstory is told with comic-book panels that suggest the movie would have made more sense as a graphic novel, or even as a film using comic-book illustrations, like
The film targets young viewers, who may find something entertaining about it, and who don’t insist that songs have such things as melodies. But the movie has no discernible point. Is it a satire about the modern mania for easy credit and plastic surgery? A warning about a future corporate-controlled dystopia? Both, or nothing at all? I suspect the latter.
The main failure of Repo! is that it isn’t the least bit funny. No movie becomes a cult classic without humor, even if it’s unintentional (Plan 9 from Outer Space). Generations wouldn’t have slavishly followed Rocky Horror if it weren’t a fun, silly farce. Repo! hasn’t a whit of wit — and worse, it seems to take itself completely seriously.
Originally published in the Cleveland Scene.