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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Repo Men (review)

Creative Repo

I’m not a muse. I just work for them. My little joke. My wife the muse never found it funny. “Please tell me I didn’t fuckin’ inspire that,” she snarled the first time she heard me say it. Of course, she had. Now she’s my ex-wife. But still my best client.

“Christ, have you seen what these assholes are doing with the idea I so generously bestowed upon them?” She didn’t quite throw Repo Men at me — for which I was grateful, because an enraged muse can hurl something as physically nebulous but as psychically powerful as a story with the force of a tornado — but she was about to if I didn’t calm her down.
“Hey, I told you to quit with these Hollywood types when Garry Marshall took your concept for a dark drama about a hooker and turned it into Pretty Woman,” I soothed. “It’s a recipe for heartache.”

She glared at me but otherwise ignored the comment. “I give them the notion of artificial organs purchased on credit at outrageous APRs — which is fuckin’ brilliant, by the way: it’s a beautiful extrapolation of the insane for-profit health care system some of these mortals insist on — which of course logically leads to the question, ‘What happens when someone can’t make the payments?’ Which was all theirs. Fine. Great. That’s what they pay me for: to kickstart their puny mortal brains.” She was stalking around her office now, and didn’t even notice when she knocked over the towering, always-teetering pile of requests: the names “J.K. Rowling” and “Ben Stiller” flashed by in the tumble of papers. “But this is where they wanna take it from there? Shit. Really, dudes?”

“Their card wasn’t declined or anything, right?” I said.

“No, their money’s fine. But there’s still the fine print.” She arched an eyebrow at me.

Yeah, I knew all about the fine print, the tricky stuff about respecting the muse’s contribution — it was how I got mixed up in this crazy part of the biz in the first place. Frankly, I still thought that the right lawyer could get the fine print thrown out in a court of law, but the muses have a surprising amount of pull among any creative professionals. Which includes lawyers, of course.

“Just fix it, all right?”

“The usual?”

“Ten percent of any negative difference between the expected opening-weekend gross and what it actually pulls in, yeah,” she confirmed. “I want you to do a fuckin’ creative repo on these guys. Irony! I fuckin’ love it.”

* * *

I guess it’s not hard to see why some of my fellow mortals might mistake me for a muse. I don’t have the capability to hand out ideas like candy like the muses do — once you’ve proven yourself worthy, both creatively and via your credit score, of course. But I do have the power, thanks to some recent advances in applied metaphysics and my handy-dandy BrainBender 3000(TM), to twist some notions one way or another.

I could see why my client was pissed, in the case of Repo Men. When I compared my client’s spec sheet against what her clients were doing with her product… Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. I guessed that she probably agreed to work with these guys in the first place because Spielberg hadn’t come calling in a while — this was exactly the kind of thing she’d have sold to him years ago. These guys seemed to sense that, and were running with it in a way that should have embarrassed them, but didn’t seem to. It looked like they were trying to ape Minority Report — you know, lots of faux-deep commentary on excessive corporatism and overarching government intrusion of privacy and basic human dignity — but without really getting Spielberg. And he’s not that hard to get.

As punishment for that, I removed the pretty good subplot they had about what happens when the organ repo men taser and cut open and pull out the cyber-liver of the wrong person, someone who was, in fact, up to date on their payments. It was a moderately clever bit, but since they mostly couldn’t get themselves up to even a Spielbergian level of easy-target satire, I figured they’d barely miss this. All it took was implanting the suggestion that the subplot was “too thinky,” and they made the cut themselves.

From there, I amped up their “homages” to Blade Runner and The Matrix till they were such blatant “ripoffs” that it was bound to piss off even the most reactionary of filmgoers, those who actually want to see the same damn movie over and over again. The blowback on that should be good for a couple mill over opening weekend: it all but ensured a steep Sunday dropoff as the bad WoM spread.

Beyond that, though… shit, my client’s clients had pretty much done my work for me. They already had the Jude Law repo man changing his tune — from enthusiastic company man who delights in ripping open bodies to grab at organs to uber-concerned citizen appalled by the brutality of this system once he needs an artificial organ himself — with such instantaneous ferocity that it was sure to give movie audiences whiplash. But I subtly convinced Jude Law to go extra mopey with his performance, as a way to underscore how preposterous it would be for his character to have no inkling of even the possible wrongness of what he’s doing until it directly impacted him personally. I made sure that the bit toward the end — you’ll know which one I mean when you see — between Law and fellow organ deadbeat Alice Braga dollops on some extra pornifying on top of their pain. And I was so clever about it that director Miguel Sapochnik will think he’s the one being clever about it. And I made sure that screenwriters Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner inserted just one more heavy-handed hint about what’s really going on to ensure that viewers are always one step ahead of what they think is their cleverness.

I am proud, though, of how I made sure that the dramatic and thematic preposterousness the film embraces in its final act — not to mention all the blood and the gore — has an ostensible onscreen reason for itself, one that no objection can possibly withstand, and by extension through which no excess can possibly be honestly justified. Because it will become its own best critique, too: If anything goes, then nothing has to make sense, and that is the biggest, cheesiest, cheapest cheat a movie can take. Everyone should be able to see that after my tweaks.

Oh, and Forest Whitaker, as Law’s partner in repo? He didn’t escape me. I’ll just say that if you see him showing up in idiotic romantic comedies, that’ll be down to my influence.

MPAA: rated R for for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and some sexuality/nudity

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • David

    Ok, let it be known that I would gladly but and read a book based on the characters you have laid out here. Have you ever considered turning novelist?

    Shame about the move though, I had a certain amount of anticipation for it.

  • gawd… I mean, I knew it was gonna suck, but I wanted so much for it to be awesome.

  • Andrew

    Yeah, I’m with David on this one. The anti-idea squad that the muses send out if you fuck with their inspiration too much, that’s an idea that (ironically) just sits there and hums with story possibilities.

  • Magess

    So.. compared to Repo!: The Genetic Opera…?

  • Randall Graves

    A creative version of this movie already did come out. It’s called Repo! The Genetic Opera, and it’s everything this movie wasn’t, also it’s where the idea came from.

  • MaryAnn

    I haven’t seen *The Genetic Opera* yet, but it’s not impossible or even unlikely that two filmmakers had similar ideas around the same time without anyone have stolen from anyone else.

    Have you ever considered turning novelist?

    Sure! Because what I need is another thankless career that it’s almost impossible to make a living at!

    Seriously, though, about 30 seconds after I started thinking about the concept for this review, I knew it could make a good novel, and I am thinking about it. It may have to go to the back of the behind the other ideas I’ve already been working on.

    Yes, writing fiction (other than fan fiction, that is) is something I would like to do more of. And I promse you’ll hear all about it if and when it comes to pass.

  • Magess

    No, it’s not impossible for two filmmakers to come up with the similar ideas. When it’s the SAME idea, though, it does make you wonder.

    The Genetic Opera is certainly not made for mainstream consumption like Repo Men. But since you didn’t like Repo Men, maybe that’s a point in its favor.

    If you’d like any feedback/help/brainstorming on story ideas, I’d be happy to help.

  • Padraig

    Just wanted to second David at the top of the thread. I really enjoyed this review, and my God, but someone has been reading their Dirk Gently! Please do consider extending this idea.

  • MaryAnn

    Dirk Gently is my god. My overall philosophy in dealing with movies — and life! — is intricately connected to the fundamental interconnectedness of all things…

  • Ann

    I think they just copied “Logan’s Run” most of the way through, Sand men, Repo-men…


    This could have been much better had the producers given more attention to the plot and maybe made the dialogue equal to the action. Sort of like a poverty-program MATRIX or MINORITY REPORT. Cuba Gooding,Jr. could have used this movie to break out of Disney. Even this flick is a step up from “Daddy Day Care”.

  • I’d love to read your opinion on The Genetic Opera if you ever get a chance to see it, even if you only have time to tweet about it. B)

  • Orangutan

    I’m with bzero, even though I have a nagging feeling you’d hate it.

  • MC

    When I first heard the title, I thought it was a quasi-sequel to Repo Man from the 1980’s.

  • Shadowen

    I always read your reviews, and I usually like them, so I hope you understand that my saying this was the best one you’ve done in a very long time is intended to be high praise, not a backhanded compliment.


    This is your best review in a very long time.

    (I dunno why, but that phrase, “This is your best work in [timeframe]” always comes off as dickish to me…but I read this and I had no choice but to use it.)

  • LaSargenta

    MC wrote:

    When I first heard the title, I thought it was a quasi-sequel to Repo Man from the 1980’s.

    This mess isn’t it, but there is a sequel (sorta), though: http://www.alexcox.com/dir_repochick.htm The IMDB page supposes that it’ll be released in 2010. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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