Have you ever seen Total Recall?

Occasionally, a movie comes along that almost everyone you know violently hates for some vague collection of reasons. I remember when Nic Cage knows the future vehicle Knowing came out, everyone hated it for being released after Nic Cage knows the future vehicle Next. It was like someone was insulting our intelligence. Roger Ebert pegged Knowing as one of the greatest films of 2009, alongside his Best Picture pick, The Hurt Locker. I saw Knowing, finally, in early 2010. It’s not that bad. I can see why Rog liked it so much. Last year, a film came out called Repo Men and everyone hated it. Nearly no one I knew had seen it, but they all–we all, myself included–hated it for no good reason. I finally saw that movie today, and it was surprisingly excellent. Not the best movie ever, not without its faults, but surprising.

Indeed, what’s likely Repo Men‘s biggest fault is its title. I know it sounds like a small gripe, but a title does a lot for your movie. A movie called Repo Men suggests a film about the titular men in that job position and their travails. Best suited to a short subject, as they repossess the artifical organs of people who can’t afford them. The project’s original title, and the title of the novel it was adapted from, was The Repossession Mambo. Which is the title of a movie wherein a man starts as a repo dude, then has to get an artificial organ he didn’t even ask for repossessed by the very company he works for. See? One says action movie with villain protagonists, the other says slow, meditative sci-fi thriller. Gorehounds who want to see gruesome organ reclamation need not apply, and neither do Michael Bay thrillhound zombies.

Remy (Jude Law) is the protagonist of this feature, by default as it starts out. He is one of the titular repo men, and he’s introduced to us cutting up and killing a man who hadn’t returned his liver. Remy, very clearly to begin with, isn’t a good man. He’s clearly a bad man who cares not about the rather deadly implications of his job (to spell it out for you: they all die after having vital artificial organs removed). But we grow to like him through seeing him with his son. Well, we like him as much as we can be allowed to. Jake (Forest Whitaker) is his friend from grade school. They went through all of school together and both enlisted in the army together when they didn’t have any job prospects. These guys are bosom buddies and the best of pals. Makes me wonder how come no one noticed Remy’s British accent between childhood and adulthood, but never mind.

After the war, they found it hard to adjust, so they both got jobs with The Union in Hamilonto. I wish filmmaker’s would at least not shoot at the Eaton’s Centre or at Hamilton’s City Hall. It’s like filming in Times Square, trying to pass it off as Bulgaria. Also, if they’re Canadians, how come people are paying a private corporation for organs? Never mind. Their boss, Frank (Liev Schreiber) is one of those used-car salesmen people. Sure, he seems warm and friendly, until you notice he’s giving you the same line he gave to the last customer who walked through his doors. These three central roles are played with Academy gusto by these men. It makes me wonder why they’d take this movie so seriously, but not the movie selection process. Again, never mind. The movie isn’t about this.

Eventually, as I hinted earlier, Remy gets shocked while trying to repossess a heart from his favourite soul musician, and goes into a coma. While in his coma, Frank and Jake put an artificial heart in him. But this change in heart–oh my god, I just got that–this change in heart causes him to have a change of heart as well. Listening to Jake tell stories of some schmuck who couldn’t pay back on his liver, all he can think of is that schmuck’s distant wife. And estranged son. Remy’s a family man, you see–but now be can’t even bring back organs for money, and the deadline is looming.

I’m not going to delve any deeper into the plot for fear of spoiling the experience of the one crazy person who reads my review and thus decides to see this movie. Needless to say, while it doesn’t go anywhere new, nor does it go anywhere too trod. The ending is a shoutout you can spot a mile away if you’re watching closely. Ask yourself why they’d mention a new product line earlier on in the movie, and then ask yourself why it’s suddenly brought up again near the end. You’ll be a step and a half and another half a step beyond what the screenwriters thought you were. The ending is cobbled together from another influential sci-fi hit, the last act is a re-do of The Running Man, but you know–I honestly don’t care.

Yes, I look at this movie and I see a movie that is the sum of its parts, and maybe I think the shoehorned Zach Snyder slow-down-speed-up cam is unnecessary, but I don’t see a gory low plot non exploratory thing that doesn’t take advantage of its premise. Indeed, it shows you the chase, the chaser and the chased. How much of this world where people have to buy artificial organs do you really need to see–or better, do you expect to see? Artiforgs could indeed make another movie with a more creative premise, but at least I can see what Repo Men is trying to be. I can see what it wants to be. It may be drowning in a sea of orange and teal, but it gets to dry land. Heaving and gasping all the way, but it gets there.

There’s something to be said for the movies like Repo Men. It likely won’t be revered as a cult classic twenty years from now, but it will still be what it wanted to be. It will still be a movie that should’ve been called The Repossession Mambo. THREE STARS