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Entries in Repo! The Genetic Opera [2008] (1)


Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

A Rocky, Horror-show Picture

Two years ago, I spent the fall devouring the films of Bill Moseley in preparation for the first-annual Chateau Grrr Celebrity Dinner. My wife, always a great sport, agreed to watch Repo! The Genetic Opera and The Haunted World of El Superbeasto one evening, and I take the fact that we're still married to be evidence of God.

Watching Repo! was such a chore for both of us that I vowed to never, ever--under any circumstances--watch it again. I felt so spiritually defeated, so overcome by anger and frustration, that I couldn't even bring myself to write about it.

So, naturally, a reader requested that I review the movie.

(I could have tossed off a few choice paragraphs from memory. But my critiquing policy provides a one-week window in which to write about a movie I've just seen. About five films have fallen down that memory hole this year, meaning I'll have to watch Old School for the sixth time before typing a single word.)

So, what do I think of Repo! the second time around? It's still shit--and I had to cheat in order to get through it again--but knowing what I was in for helped soften the blow. The film is set in a dystopian future where a company called GeneCo sells human organs as fashion accessories (No one explains how being implanted with a bar-coded liver makes someone sexy; indeed, most of the people in the film are hideously scarred, pierced freaks).

GeneCo's founder is a dying man named Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino). His three grossly spoiled, adult children, Luigi (Moseley), Amber (Paris Hilton), and Pavi (Nivek Ogre) vie for the family fortune, which has been built not only on selling body parts, but also by reposessing them when customers can't make their payments. Enter Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head), a disgraced doctor who supports his ailing daughter, Shilo (Alexa Vega), by ripping spines and intestines out of deadbeats and shipping them back to headquarters.

That's the setup. To say anything more about the story (aside from "everybody's got a secret") would spoil the film. Also, frankly, I just don't care to get into it. I don't suppose people come to Repo! for the story, anyway. This is a bombastic, midnight-movie experience that's all about songs, costumes, and gore.

Which is fine, except that none of those three things is handled well. Let's start with the gore. Director Darren Lynn Bousman, best known for his work on the Saw franchise, spills a lot of blood and guts here, but in a far less artful fashion than I'd expected. Aside from a couple of scenes, the eviscerations look really fake; not bad-fake--more like over-the-top fake. I understand the impulse: these Rocky Horror-style shows aren't built on subtlety; but by making the torn faces and gaping stomach wounds look like Halloween-store novelty items, Bousman strips the horror element right out of his movie. He might as well have had his actors yank red streamers out of each others' shirts.

The wardrobe and set decoration are the most impressive things about the movie, but even those have problems. Repo! looks exactly as you'd expect it to, given the synopsis and target audience: lots of gothic/pseudo-burlesque accoutrements, and more spiked leather and hair extensions than five movies of its kind should be allowed. But where's the design? Where's the imagination? Like Sucker Punch, Repo! looks and feels like it was produced by the Hot Topic marketing department, with input from MTV executives. So, even if I'd given in to my urge to turn off the sound, there still would've been nothing interesting to look at.

Yes, the songs are terrible. The screenplay reeks of the kind of hackish, immature writing one might try to spruce up by, say, burying in a song. Every characters' lyrics and dialogue are purely expository, and the story is conveyed not so much by singing, but by sing-song talking. Full disclosure: I don't know much about opera, but there's little in Repo! to recommend it--unless you count this is as great song-writing:

I'm the smartest and the toughest! 
I will find a hole and fuck it! 
If there ain't one, I will make one! 
Luigi don't take shit from no one! 
One brain, mark it up! 
Only I got brains enough! 
That's why Pop will leave GeneCo to me--
Me, me, me, me, me, me!

There are some awesome, operatic performances by Sorvino and Sarah Brightman, but, again, they don't serve anything amusing, thought-provoking or worthwhile. I get the feeling they were reined in quite a bit to make the rest of the cast more comfortable. Paris Hilton's great and all, but listening to her sing was enough to make me want to tear off my ears and sell them at market price. Props also go to co-writer Terrance Zdunich, whose work as the narrating Graverobber made at least some scenes bearable.

I mentioned earlier that I cheated while watching Repo!. On occasion, a movie will be so excruciating that I'll indulge in diversions while it's going on. I'm not proud of this, but were I to be strapped down like Alex in A Clockwork Orange and forced to endure Repo! head-on for a second time, I probably would have jumped out a window. It took me twelve hours and ten breaks to finish this hour-and-a-half film; and as the story ambled along towards the climax, I found myself suddenly very interested in Google.

Occasionally, something would draw me back to the screen, like Shiloh's bedroom-fantasy dance number in which she sings about being seventeen. I couldn't peg the song as a Joan Jett tune, but there was definitely a Black Hearts quality to it. Sure enough, the camera whips around to Jett in a corner, rocking out on guitar. Sadly, I couln't hum a bar from that song if you paid me, though I just watched this scene yesterday morning.

I admire the movie's ambition, but not its execution. There's an easy quality to it that suggests the filmmakers didn't bother to push the story or the music to their fullest potential. Honestly, they didn't have to. This film was manufactured as a cult sensation, a disturbing phenomenon we're seeing a lot of lately. Launched as The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a new generation, I'd wager the producers didn't care how commercially successful their product was in the short term. They knew the movie would find an audience on video and at midnight screenings for years to come. And any critics who might fail to appreciate the film's greatness, they might argue, are simply not cool enough to get it.

Well, I get it. I just don't accept it. For example, casting Paul Sorvino in a movie like this is a brilliant move; but that has to be followed up with a script and a vision that give this wonderful performer something more to do than wear the confused, pained look of a father reading a ransom note on live TV.

Having said that, I don't blame anyone for being really into Repo! The Genetic Opera. I've liked plenty of awful movies over the years. But as a successful work of art, this is as indefensible as Bill Moseley's singing voice.