The Repossession Mambo

[Beware, reader, to step into the world of sci-fi movie rant. Also, fair warning spoiler alert.]

So, I saw Repo Men, and I have to say that I haven’t facepalmed that much in the theater in a long time. Okay, so you’re right–I sighed quite a bit during the recent Alice in Wonderland; but Repo Men was especially bleargh for a number of reasons, any combination of which equal complete movie disaster. Before going over these points, I will try to say something positive about the film.

The movie itself is based on the novella The Repossession Mambo, which is also the device through which the protagonist of the film narrates the back story of his life leading up to the climax of conflict. The story is by Eric Garcia, who also wrote Matchstick Men (another mediocre story with a similar protagonist’s journey. Actually, now that I think about it, if you replace all the “repo men” references in Repo Men with “con men” references, and replace the “needs a new heart” with “succumbs to OCD,” then you have Matchstick Men. But, I digress). Garcia’s premise is sound: the marriage of man and machine, realized in a fitting and poetic allegory by creating a future where technology prolongs life at great social expense. It is figuratively and literally a visceral analogy, in that the technology takes the place of human organs, performing our basic biological functions better than our own weak, fragile organs can. How cool is that? Couple that with a mega-corporation that oversees a corrupt operation to maintain the use and distribution of those organs, and you’ve got one hell of a good setting. If you grew up reading as much cyberpunk and sci-fi as I did, then all your spider senses are tingling. Even with the handicap of being written by Garcia, the film had a lot of potential, not only to be visually powerful, captivating, bleak, and dystopian, but to tell an important message about health care, power struggles, capitalism, corporate domination, and the loss of social connection–the blurring of man and machine.

Instead, we’re given one hundred eleven minutes of bad action clichés, failed direction, lifeless parking garages and stale city streets (other than the occasional CGI city scene or car rolling down the highway), stupid uses for artificial organs (coined “artiforgs”), over-exaggerated and nonsensical business decisions, and horrible dialog written by someone who doesn’t seem to know how people actually talk (and that’s considering the fact that the whole movie leading up to the final conflict is supposed to be a narrated story). To be fair, the mostly bad dialog is intermingled with actors who carry some scenes quite well, due to their ability to comically ad lib. Bottom line: this movie was a big let down; it’s difficult to know where to begin or even if I’ll be able to cover everything. Since I don’t want to ever watch it again, I’ll do my best to discuss the pertinent issues, from what I can recall.

1. Remy may be the best at what he does, but he has the worst most contradictory job.

And I’m not referring to the gory mess of cutting out organs and vacuum sealing them for recall. I’m talking about the fact that he seems to walk some liminal line between being feared and respected by everyone except his boss and company. “Oh, but that’s true to life,” you say? Well, maybe conceptually that’s the case–most middle-classers are underpaid and under-appreciated. But that’s not true of the jobs that society deems extreme and worthy of hazard pay, like fighter pilots or crab fishermen. People respect that shit and go “Ooh, wow” and stuff because they know most people couldn’t do what those extremists do.

On at least two separate occasions in the film, Jake (played by Forrest Whitaker) makes some sort of reference to the fact that as Union Repo Men (and two of the best), he and Remy get extra pay, hazard pay, extra commissions, etc. They are able to roam the streets, scanning anyone they wish to find past due accounts and reclaim organs, an apparent testament to the overreaching power of the Union Corporation. People know what Union Repo Men do, and it scares the shit out of them, but if they want to live longer they’re going to sell their soul to the corporation (another glaring inconsistency). Look, if a mega-corporation wants to maintain a monopoly on this sort of thing, wouldn’t they need to make sure their repo men were well-taken care of in order to ensure the chain of power? Considering the opposition that some of the underground seemed to put up against Jake and Remy, wouldn’t the corporation need to make sure their repo men were qualified and skilled? It’s kind of not a job you can get without the proper credentials.

Yet, as the audience we’re expected to believe that these important and necessary operatives, who have their own system of rank and seniority with the company, trade quips and coffee with the CEO–one man who dons an apron and proceeds to scan in reclaimed organs. He then goes onto hand out jobs to the Repo Men (who apparently don’t need handouts since they can scan passerbys with their little ray gun), and go to the sales floor to run deals, and then to the office to sort out financial disputes. . . What, did Liev Schreiber cost so much that they ran out of money for other actors? We can plainly see the room full of people in white who manufacture all of the organs, so why the hell was the CEO doing EVERYTHING ELSE in the company? If he’s that good at doing everything, why is he so bad at relating to his most important employees? If Repo Men are bringing back a healthy quota of artiforgs, why was there such a need to build so many new ones? The more I think about the inner-workings of this company, the less I believe they have the potential to actually maintain a monopoly on artiforgs. The entire corporation is contradictory in nature and ends up not making any sense. Why would everyone be afraid of a company that makes such poor business decisions? That’s not how capitalism works. Union would be out of business in a heartbeat. Stupid.

2. Remy’s wife is a naggy bitch.

The audience doesn’t really get a chance to see Remy develop as a character at all. His transition is all wrong, not to mention it DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. To make matters worse, his wife is possibly the most selfish person on the face of the earth. She hates what he does and breaks his balls every fucking time she’s on screen. We don’t get a chance to see any other scenario, other than her nagging his sorry ass. Jesus, he’s gotta go to work cutting people’s organs out, then come home and deal with that shit? He can’t even play ball with his damn kid? Fuck. Actually, it makes sense that he’s good at what he does, because focusing on work is probably the lesser of the two evils. Now, I’m perfectly willing to accept that they might have problems. Maybe he met her just out of the military, and she was a party slut, so he knocked her up and then the shit got real, so they got married for the kid but they’re getting on each other’s nerves and she’s ready to cave in on herself because of all of her regrets…. I think I just puked a little. Anyway, the point is that her character is so fucking nagging that it destroys any potential we have as an audience to connect to Remy’s inner struggle. Look, I get it, she wants him to move to the sales dept., but what possible motivation does he have to move there? His job’s got them living in a posh neighborhood, got the best clothes, great car, grill, food, and nice school for the kid, yet she’s always a bitch to him and wants him to get downsized? In the Repo dept., he gets twice as much money, AND he gets to hang out with his best friend. What the fuck? If she loved him and wanted him in sales because she was worried about him getting hurt, you’d think they’d have played her a bit differently, no? Anything he’s doing to smooth the waters with his annoying wife just makes me feel less like the story makes sense at all. The whole family setting is so poorly played it’s like trying to convince someone that life would be better if you just let me spoon feed you your own vomit. It just doesn’t make sense, and frankly it’s kind of insulting.

3. More plot holes than olive loaf with swiss on home baked rye.

Some people have all the luck. Apparently, though, not Remy. His transition point is the night before he’s going to tell Mega Man CEO Liev Schreiber that he’s transferring to sales to appease his ungrateful wife. He does “one last job” (cliché headache!) and heads out to get the artiforg heart from his pop music idol. We see a shared moment where some more of Remy’s contradicting personality comes out, where he gives preferential treatment to this musician and lets him finish “one last song,” also promising to deliver a recorded track on USB to some nameless relative. Instead of once again uttering, “Sorry, that’s not my department,” Remy spills over himself with kind affirmations, taking great care and comfort with the musician. It comes across as contrived, not progressive. Finally, it comes time for the artiforg reclamation; Remy attempts to shock the musician’s heart with paddles, but is instead shocked himself. Later we’ll find out that Jake switched the leads on the machine, making it send the shock back into Remy, which apparently made his heart explode. Wow, really? Just switching the leads makes your heart explode? Seriously? Okay, whatever.

So he wakes up in the hospital, and as we all saw in the trailer, he’s got a Union heart now. “No, get it out, no!” He whines and complains, and spends a long time rehabilitating. Yet, when he’s finally ready to go back to work, he is unable to complete the job. Huh? Even though he had no sense of remorse for cutting organs out of people before, now that he’s got a fake organ he can’t do his job because it’s “just not right.” Now, “A job isn’t just a job,” because, you know, man, those are people, just trying to get by, man. I’m just like them, and, you know, it’s… ah fuck it. Don’t even get me started on how they throw around the “a job is a job” thing, or you’ll give me another cliché headache.

Even with all the hazard pay he was making now we’re supposed to believe he completely runs out of money in one month? Seriously? He was on the high end of money-making jobs there, but now he’s broke? Yes, and now the Repos are after him. Hey Remy, how about, oh I don’t know, SELLING YOUR HOUSE, or better yet SELLING YOUR UNGRATEFUL WIFE’S CAR? Or maybe get another job? There are more employers in the world, yes? Or even do a better job being in the sales dept. I know that the mock-QVC home shopping commercial was there to tell us that the liver costs like $756,000.00 (which I assume they mean United States dollars), so we’re all supposed to go, “Whoa, that’s fucking expensive,” but this is the future, so we’re all supposed to also assume that everything costs more, but it’s ambiguous, so we just don’t know. Regardless, the Union prides itself on allowing payment plans for people, in order for things to be affordable. If they’re a corporation, then they want more MONEY, not more artiforgs. Repo Men are there to get the organs back from people who aren’t paying for them, so they can implant them into people who will. Did the director fail economics? And if the corporation needs to retrieve the organs quickly and get them into new people, why not, oh I don’t know, take care of the employees who do a good job? You’d think there would have been something to that effect in the contract. . . . At any rate, having any of their story points make sense would probably have taken away from the already thin plot. I guess you’re not supposed to think. “Why don’t you–” // “Shhhhhh. . .”

4. Beth’s artiforgs

Okay, enter Beth (played by Alice Braga), and you’re at the point in the film where I had to forcibly quit face palming because my forehead started to hurt (Nota Bene: I mean “strung out artiforg” Beth, not “sexy lounge singer” Beth, cause we saw her earlier too when we didn’t realize she was completely fake. But anyway…). So, based on Remy’s actual wife, we know he’s got lousy taste in women so of course he’s going to be attracted to Beth.

So yeah, W H A T T H E F U C K is with this chick’s artiforgs? Apparently, the plot needed her to exist in order for us to, what exactly, see how far the protagonist had transformed? “Let’s have Beth be the most artiforged human in the city, how’s that sound? Huh? Doesn’t make sen—” // “Shhhhh….” What the hell? Wow, just. . . wow. Ever since they installed that union heart in Remy, the writers, director, and producers have made one bumbling mistake after another. Maybe they should just have Remy write the story himself? Oh, right, they did that too, they just screwed it up along with everything else. That’s why they’ve got—ah fuck it.

Back to Beth’s artiforgs. She’s been nearly 100% converted, you see, into a machine. There are a number of problems I have with this. First of all, it’s her damn ears. She’s got bionic hearing, apparently? She hears a repo man coming after Remy the morning after their torrid love affair in the condemned building. Then she proceeds to PLUG A HEADPHONE JACK INTO HER EAR, put headphones on Remy’s head, and TURN UP A PLASTIC WHEEL DIAL LOCATED BEHIND HER EAR. I. . . Do I. . . ?

. . .

Then there’s the notion that her artiforgs were all Union corporation specs. Apparently, she was somehow able to receive implants even though she had others past due? The computer scanner clearly shows that some of her artiforgs are more past due than others, so what the hell? Now, as she’s talking about her organs, she reveals an elaborate underground market of people implanting and exchanging organs, as would be suspected in such an oppressive society. But apparently everyone in the underground is stupid, because twice in the film it becomes evident that all you need to do in order to evade the artiforg scanner is scratch off the serial number. Yes, that’s it. It’s like a lotto ticket or something. Just scratch it off, and you’re in the clear. Don’t you think, then, that since Beth had been to the artiforg underground reportedly on several occasions that all her serial numbers would just have been scratched off? I’m getting a headache again.

5. The M-5 Neural Interface

Finally, I’ll mention the deus ex machina device that could have actually made for a fun, twist of an ending, but ends up clubbing the audience to death much like Jake ultimately subdues Remy. So, about 10 minutes into the film, we overhear an advertisement in the background that proceeds to invade the foreground and carry on for nearly a full minute, for no other presumable reason than to completely expose the ending. It’s for the M-5 Neural Interface, a way for your loved ones, coma victims, and those who have suffered brain death to go on living a life of peace and relaxation, blah blah, utopia, blah. The ad just kept going on, and I was like, “why are we supposed to care about this right now? What does this have to do with repossessing artiforgs?” See, foreshadowing is supposed to be subtle in order for it to be effective. You’re supposed to see something that you first attribute to characterization, but then later realize that all signs pointed to the conflict. Now, I’m not trying to say that their delivery here ruined the movie for me, but, well, it ruined the movie for me. That’s because 15 minutes into the damn movie, they plugged the M-5 Neural interface AGAIN with another heavy-handed advertisement. So, by then, I’m like, “Gee, I wonder if they’re going to put someone in the M-5 Neural interface and let them live out their fantasies forever. And I wonder if that someone will be the protagonist.” Bleargh.

So, before the conflict resolution, Jake crushes Remy’s head with some sort of warehouse pulley thing. Blammo. Then the movie takes on a different tone, one where Remy stands and wins a battle with Jake, sneaks into the Union Mainframe with Beth (who has injured her leg), and proceeds to make it to the artiforg reclamation scanner. He has Beth cut open his chest and then scan his heart, then he proceeds to cut Beth nearly into pieces in order to scan all of her equipment, and meanwhile Jake is breaking into the room–it’s all very tense. Of course, Remy finishes, Jake breaks in and realizes for the first time that he’s been blind to the pain that antiforgs bring to good, decent people. Jake and Remy kiss and make up, and then toss some grenades into the mainframe, and everyone lives happily ever after on a beach somewhere together…. Gee, I wonder why everything is coming up roses? Could it be that they put the M-5 NEURAL INTERFACE in his head, you ask? Well, that’s right, you are correct. Because that’s what they did. Hooray, the corporation wins!

In a nutshell, this movie disrespected all of my boyhood memories and links to solid storytelling in the cyberpunk genre by turning a solid premise into a mindless, nonsensical action film that drags a field rake through the setting and the plot while at the same time hypocritically thrusting product placement down the audience’s throat instead of utilizing their allegory to make a sound statement about our social economy. Now, if you’ve made it this far into this post, you might be saying to yourself, “Jesus, why are you so worked up? It’s just a movie; wow, what a complete freak you are.” To which I say, “No, no you’re not getting it. This is my favorite genre, and a bunch of people are going to make millions of dollars even though they butchered it like a fully aged steer.”

Take my advice: don’t waste your time with Repo Men; instead, go see Repo: The Genetic Opera. I hear that’s the work that got directly ripped off for the film anyway.

By Ruadhán

Ethnomediologist, writer, digital creator, & gamer. Author & developer of Augur's Lore TTRPGs. Polyhedral dice & pizza enthusiast. Pronouns: they/them/their

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