Dir: Darren Lynn Bousman . US. 2008. 97 mins.
Kinky, sexy, gory and campy, Repo! The Genetic Opera may be an unwieldy mess, but it's a fun unwieldy mess. Based on a Los Angeles theatrical piece, this futuristic rock opera will annoy those unwilling to meet it halfway, as its shamelessly melodramatic story-songs leave the musical fluctuating between the inspired and the obnoxiously indulgent. Mainstream crowds will steer clear of Repo!'s determined strangeness, but fans of the offbeat should seek it out.
Repo! Opens in limited release in the US on November 7, and the film seems destined to be a cult curiosity in the vein of Hedwig And The Angry Inch. Repo!'s connection to the Saw series might attract the curious - the film's director, Darren Lynn Bousman, and several of the producers and below-the-line technicians have worked on the franchise - but with a cast lacking in big names, commercial expectations are low before its natural progression to the midnight-movie circuit.
Set approximately 50 years in the future, Repo! concerns 17-year-old Shilo (Vega), a sickly young woman whose father Nathan (Head) has a secret identity as Repo Man, an assassin for a powerful corporation that offers organ transplants on a payment plan. If the customer can't pay, Repo Man comes to collect the organ, killing the customer in the process. Shilo is not aware of her father's secret life, but soon she will uncover his identity and his connection to Rotti Largo (Sorvino), the company's sinister CEO.
Adapting their stage show, Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich have concocted a world that liberally borrows from such dystopian epics as Blade Runner and the films of Tim Burton. Repo! successfully recalls the hyper-stylised environment of comic books and fantasy films, aided by graphic-novel inserts that explain the back-stories of the principal characters.
As with many musicals, Repo!'s songs and spectacle overpower a thin story. But while the film's spectacle is almost always entrancing, the songs only sporadically deliver. Drawing from industrial rock, goth, new wave and opera, the tunes can be quite striking, but too often they grate, especially when the less-capable cast members, such as Paris Hilton, sing them. Because the songs draw from so many musical styles, Repo! struggles to establish a sonic identity, but at the same time, the sheer exuberance of the performances gives even the weakest compositions a certain charm.
At its dullest, Repo! feels as choppy and incoherent as the music videos that gave Bousman his start, but for the most part, he invests the musical set pieces with a cheeky irreverence while making the horror scenes both gruesome and darkly funny.
With the majority of the dialogue sung, the expertly over-the-top performances rise and fall to the level of the musical material. Paul Sorvino's opera training serves him well in a one-note role of the evil businessman. Classical soprano Sarah Brightman exhibits a haunted beauty as a blind singer, while Anthony Stewart Head projects vulnerability as Repo Man. Many of the younger actors fail to hold their own with their more experienced costars, although Alexa Vega has some touching moments near the film's conclusion.
Daniel Jason Heffner
Director of photography
Music & Lyrics
Anthony Stewart Head