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Rick McGrath [Film Festival 10.20.08] movie review scifi musical horror



Year: 2008
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Writers: Darren Smith & Terrance Zdunich
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Dr. Nathan
Rating: 5 out of 10

You may want to accuse me of quackery, but I’m still going to enter into the medical files that Repo! The Genetic Opera is probably not going to become a cult classic no matter how much it attempts to be an upscale update of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Why? Lemme tell ya. First off, bad music. Second off, geriatric stars. Third off, hackneyed love triangle plot with forgettable lines. I’ll stop there, although there’s more. And yes, there are positive points to make… but let’s start at the beginning.


The TAD audience arrived in sold-out numbers to catch the city’s first showing of this somewhat-hyped flick, and not surprisingly were treated to an introductory speech by Repo! co-writer Terrance Zdunich, who revealed the thing was shot & produced in Toronto and that it represented the world’s first “21st century rock opera” – an oversight of creativity we’ve apparently all been losing sleep over. “If you like it, tell your friends”, Zdunich implored. “And if you don’t like it, at least tell your friends it took some chances”.

Sorry Terrance, but your movie is a heckuva lot closer to the 19th century than the 21st, and as far as I can tell, the only “chance” you took was coughing up a big production budget and hoping it would disguise a weak story. The extravagant sets and costumes are something old and Dickensian – as are most of the “stars” – and everything about Repo is so highly stylized and oddly rushed that even the horror scenes emote little sense of horror or disgust. Dr Nathan requires some sort of catharsis. Oh my, where to start?

OK, it’s an opera, let’s do the muzak. First of all, it’s all music, and not all the music is rock. Unlike a “musical”, in which the characters start singing when the emotionality of the moment outranks speech, Repo! is a true opera, with everyone singing all the time. This makes it tough on the writers, Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich (they also wrote the score), because in order to move the plot along they have to resort to what I call “noodle” singing, which is usually low on melodic effects and high on verbal content. You better pay attention – not much gets repeated. Opposed to this would be the big, emotional numbers with memorable melodies and less intellectual information. Sadly, our boys Darren and Terrance are pretty good on the noodling stuff, but draw major blanks on the showstoppers, possibly because there’s not much of a purely emotional high for our characters to get worked up about. Oh, they have lots of problems, but generally they’re all narcissistic rants and songs about dead wives and crummy jobs and how Dad doesn’t understand me aren’t going to get an audience going like upbeat numbers about new wives, new careers and dating guys. I’m not saying I want a Pollyanna soundtrack, no, no… but even in the organ repo business there’s gotta be some humour to exploit. Or at least a few good jokes. Some outrageous stuff. But no. It’s been less than 24 hours since your good doctor saw Repo! and to tell you the truth, I can’t remember one line of one song. Not good.

Perhaps the problem is with the singers themselves. Our stars are Paul Sorvino (born in 1939), who plays the evil Rotti Largo; Paris Hilton, who is Amber Sweet; Bill Mosely (born in 1951) as Rotti’s son Luigi; Anthony Head (born in 1954) as Nathan Wallace/Repo Man; and Alexa Vega as Nathan’s daughter Shilo. Shilo’s dead mom was married to Nathan but desired by Rotti. Hey, basically it’s a love triangle double revenge movie. Toss in 48-year-old Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag the Genetic Opera star, and you could populate an old folk’s home… with Paris and Alexa as underdressed chambermaids.

Sure, they can sing, but big deal. In many cases they have trouble enunciating their words, or the pace is very quick, and you find yourself sitting through a song and at some time wondering what the heck is going on. And I’m there, working. Sorvino gets caught up too often in the operatic moment – how long can you watch a guy hold a warble; Hilton is more eye candy than voice, and not onscreen as much as you’d like; Mosely is a minor figure; Head has a good voice, but what’s so great about watching a Dad berate his daughter before running out to remove some poor joker’s backbone; and Vega has a passable voice, a better body, but no love interest to get the backbeat going. She has emotional associations with just Dad – she has a “blood disorder” and he’s kept her locked in her room for 17 years -- and later the evil Rotti makes his play for her. Whatta waste.

Which leads us to the plot.

As I diagnosed earlier, it’s the old love triangle story – two men fighting over a woman -- slightly complicated with a kid tossed in as the Mom is now dead. So, no sex. In the bigger picture, the year is 2056 and millions have died from a rash of organ failures. No probs, though, as Rotti invents GeneCo, an organ transplant service, with a convenient layaway payment plan. This is made possible by a new painkiller called Zydrate that GeneCo has monopolized. Only downside: if you miss a payment, Nathan the Repoman is likely to appear and repossess the body part in question. Immediately. That might not be so bad. There were three girls in the audience dressed like Genetic nurses, and I later suggested to them I had purchased a big new penis last year and hadn’t made any payments, but they were loath to repossess my equipment. Hey, no harm in trying. Toss in the love/revenge story, and you’ve got a questionably complicated plotline that (a) is already tough enough for the substance abuse crowd to follow, (b) gives no opportunity for flesh-pressing, and (c) doesn’t give any opportunity for anthem-type songs to lift the audience out of the confused action and into active participation, as per the RHPS phenomenon. Sure, you can dress up as one of the naughty nurses, but you’ll find there’s nothing either camp or kitsch on which to rest your surgical gloves or repo mask. The story, sadly, is so broadly-based that the first 10 minutes is done as a graphic novel with voice-over in order to explain the endless background and get all up to speed for the main yarn. Perhaps this is another instance where doing a musical might have been better than slavishly following the operatic form.

OK, all negative so far… but there is some funky stuff. Like the sets and costumes. If your brain rebels at the lackluster plot, then your eyes will revel in the lush, almost overdone art direction. It all reminded me a bit of Tim Burton’s sense of detail applied to a highly stylized, Victorian vision of a future society. Either heavily overdressed or wildly underdressed, the characters move through at least 200 years of fashion, from the repo man’s surgical costume that looks like a reject from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, to the flimsy dresses that look like what Paris Hilton will still be wearing to clubs 15 years from now. The budget shows, too, with ornate design and a truly fantastic model of this city of the future with its dominating GeneCo Tower glistening under a full moon. The opening tracking shot from the outskirts of town to the city’s core is a great one, and the overall feel is one of mixed timeframes, the dusty past co-existing with a future that features great strides in body modification techniques (ironic given the number of facejobs the cast has endured) and funky 3-D wrist-held communication devices.

If you had to find a representative character that sums up all the flaws of this slightly pompous production, then I’d choose Blind Mag, the opera singer with Borg eyes played by the really surgical face of Sarah Brightman. Competent but careful, she shows off more of her MILF-like body than ever before, but really, who cares? Once she opens her mouth and that wanker warble emerges, you’re wondering if it’s time to refill the popcorn tub. She does, however, have the movie’s most memorable ending, although it’s still not worth the price of admission to see her – and the entire crew of geriatrics – take their final bows.

What can you say? I wanted it to be cool, but it looks like they had too much money to throw at it and got caught up in style, much to the detriment of the storyline and music. My diagnosis is this movie manages to bore the audience into a state of indifference as to the fate of the characters. A chancy move indeed, but you’d think this would also be the perfect opportunity to kick some opera ass – give up some energy in truly wild performances -- but no, we’re stunned into frozen silence with a rockless, roll-less and actual operatic soundtrack, with the “songs” essentially chained to progressing the overwrought plot. Will this become another Rocky Horror? They desperately want Repo! to become a cult classic, but methinks they tried too hard and the result is just a tad too self-conscious. I think Repo is bound for the Reaper, Grim.


Terrance Zdunich at TAD


Geneco employees may look sweet but they'll rip your heart out

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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

those are girls, not guys

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Stacey Robinson (12 years ago) Reply

You seem like you wrote this entire horrible review because you were scorned because the "employees in drag" would not touch your nether regions. Most people when giving a bad review at least show some tact, you went on and on where it really wasn't necessary. Makign personal stabs at people who are fans of this movie not only shows immaturity, but also the fact that you are not qualified to give a real review. It's a wonder that you are posting a review at a ".us" site instead of the more mainstream ",com" or ".net" which is a sign that your site isn't as popular as you want it to be. And giving a crappy, insulting review like this shows your lack of superiority in this industry. You are the type of person that will be kicking yourself in a few short months, much like the critics of Rocky Horror are kicking themselves to this day.

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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

wow unprofessional review, it's fine to hate something but this reviewer is going way to far.

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Hot Fuzz (12 years ago) Reply

This is the second bad review for Repo! that's appeared on Quiet Earth so I know it must be bad. Repo looked terrible from day one.

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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

I'm pretty sure the critics of Rocky Horror aren't "kicking themselves to this day." All the criticisms of that film still have merit. It just happens to be a bad film that got a lot more popular than anyone could have predicted.

But remember the job of the critic is to say whether or not the film is good not to predict whether or not it's successful.

That being said there is a tricky business to creating a "cult classic." For one thing they're usually accidents and trying to repeat that success is like capturing lightning in a bottle. In fact it can be argued that crafting a cult classic is just as difficult if not more than crafting a great film. As in both cases you have to shoot for greatness, afterall it's not enough to be bad you have to be spectacularly bad.

Why do you think Rocky Horror is a cult classic but it's sequel not?

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Stacey Robinson (12 years ago) Reply

I love how the first poster's post was removed. Classy. and...I did not know rocky horror had a sequel. lmao.

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filmlyfe (12 years ago) Reply

Dear Stacey Robinson,

.us is much cheaper than .com or .net. Also this site rocks and you should be glad its getting any attention. Movies like this should be discouraged. The poster and outfits look retarded anyways. The film also gave Paris Hilton some sort of a job to which she doesnt deserve. Im glad that there was a review like this. If I had lessor judgement and still wanted to see a movie that always looked and sounded worse than Battlefield earth I could have wasted my time. Im a filmmaker as well and guess what just like how not everyone sets out to make a bad movie not everyone is going to give you a great review. Yeah it stinks but thats life. If I mix milk with orange juice I know its going to go bad.

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agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

Comment rules are pretty simple around here. Personally attack one of my writers and you get your comment removed. Pretty standard.

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funcrusher (12 years ago) Reply

well...all i can say about this movie is that it was SO LOUD that i fell asleep a couple times. it's not my bag, but every girl who saw it seems to love it. i guess if you go in for that sort of thing, it's pretty good. maybe? i was drunk when i saw it and i'm drunk now. i had to piss really bad for the last hour of the film and there were about 147 different songs and i just wanted it to end. i don't know what i'm on about anymore. my irlfriend really liked it.

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Kurt (12 years ago) Reply

This film is such spectacular awfulness that I couldn't even bring myself to hate it. It's just soul crushing to watch how inept things are handled on screen. Yie. I couldn't work up the energy to write about the film, I'm simply hoping that it goes away. Cult Classic this most certainly is NOT.

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Nicole (12 years ago) Reply

Repo is definitely the kind of movie that you'll either love or hate, but that doesn't justify this reviewer's unprofessional review. Do not personally attack fans, for one thing. Just because you hated the movie doesn't mean the fans are on drugs.

I suppose that oen really has to know more about the movie going into it to appreciate it. The reviewer harped on about the age of the actors- which shouldn't be an issue. They're all great voices and great talents. And the fact that you personally don't appreciate Sarah Brightman's vocal talents does not justify your comment about her. Believe it or not, there are people who appreciate opera, and the fact that Sarah is gifted with a wonderful operatic voice and can sing in multiple languages beautifully. Oddly enough, Paris Hilton plays the smallish role she was cast in perfectly. But the plot problems are not the fault of those who created Repo. That's the fault of Lionsgate, who wouldn't allow the movie to be completed to the fullness it's meant to be. There were many songs cut out, subplots shorted. No one I've talked to who has seen the movie has been nearly as confused by it as the reviewer would like to make people think. It's a complex plot(- and not weak at all, I migh add) and I'm sure that, with some reasonably important numbers cut from the movie, might be hard to follow for someone who has little to no interest in the movie in the first place(the reviewer made it ABUNDANTLY clear they they belong to that camp). But people with little to no interest likely won't be seeing it anyway.

If you want a movie full of sex and mainstream cookie-cutter 20-something actors, as the reviewer seemed to be so craving, from their multiple references to the characters' ages and lack of sex in the story, don't see Repo. The fact that the movie doesn't include those elements doesn't make it worse.

Whatever happend to professionalism while reviewing? All I see here is someone who extremely disliked a movie ranting, not a full, informative review. Especially after that insulting comment about the fans of the movie.

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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

You sound like an absolute pig.

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Dr. Nathan (12 years ago) Reply

Normally when the crowd noises outside my door elevate to the pitchforks and torches stage I get out my 11-foot pole and poke the most vociferous off the welcome mat. Even these apoplectic peons, however, haven't prepared the Doctor for the vomit of invective my 5/10 for this geriatric opera has produced. My Freudian training tells me something a lot deeper than just disagreement is going on here. Something akin to the psychopathology of the pre-adult -- in this case, the irrational attachment of the ego to a fantasy wish-symbol -- seeking to overturn an opposing, and therefore self-threatening, voice.

The preferred technique of these diary-writers and their cults of personality? Discreditation. And so we have it. Unprofessional. Untactful. Unsuperior. Fan hater. Disinterested. Ranter. Pig. Note the way the personal charges escalate from objective to personal? That's a common "tell" among amateur writers, who amusingly tend to unwittingly reveal their subconscious anxieties in their lack of style and form, structures the writer's mind uses to create a conscious effect. Like what you're reading now. Gotcha. Regardless, the point of discreditation is to negate the (bad) review by negating the (bad) reviewer.

A breakdown in reading skills also exacerbates the problem, as most of the name-calling comes from a misreading of the review. For example, nowhere did I explicitly mention that the audience, or the fans, were on drugs. It was a comment on Repo's plot complexity, using an old stoner cliche to set a level of mental awareness. I quote myself: "you’ve got a questionably complicated plotline that (a) is already tough enough for the substance abuse crowd to follow". Extrapolating that to "personally attack fans" is a stupendous leap, not only because "crowd" does not equal "fan", but because it's totally ludicrous to think for a moment that every person watching an experimental indie flick is straight. TAD is not a fest at the baptist church hall with parental monitors. However, mud is mud... and Obama is a terrorist muslim, too. Do I care about the other name-callings? Not really. But hey, let's allow the condemned a final word.

How about unprofessional? What am you saying? Professional means paid and/or expert. I don't receive money for these reviews, so I'm not a professional in that sense (OK, I get free tickets). However, I've been a published (for money) reviewer and writer since 1969, so I may claim some expertise in the field. That's what professional means. I say what I dislike and what I like about Repo... the balance is there throughout the piece. How you perceive my opinion has nothing to do with it. It's a review. Quiet Earth decides if it's professional or not. That knife, however, works both ways: you seem to be experts, as well... where are your reviews? Perhaps it's harder to write your own than to misread mine.

Or this on my disinterest: "little to no interest in the movie in the first place (the reviewer made it ABUNDANTLY clear they they belong to that camp)". Actually, I said the exact opposite in my last para: "What can you say? I wanted it to be cool, but..." Heck, I even took my camera and grabbed those shots. Or perhaps I perversely attend only those movies which capture my disinterest. Yeah, that's it.

And so on and on... (yawn). Tell you what, ladies, gentlemen, if you want to attack my conclusions, then argue my points, not my imagined self. You have no idea who Dr Nathan is... surprise, but this print persona is not the real me (cue spooky music). As an aside... the bit about me talking to the GeneCo girls about my operation -- sorry, I made that up to add a little zest to the piece. Creative license. Extrapolate the plot to real life. Seems to have worked, although it went from a cheap laugh to a sex bomb in your hands. Dr Nathan is amused back.

Well, there you go. Sorry I couldn't join all of you in your attempts to get physical, but even the Dr's inner child can't muster much mayhem over this already much-maligned movie. And it is just a movie. As for your reviews of me: 2/10 (two points for the objective defense of Brightman and the actor's ages).

PS... have you read my other reviews and interview with Larry Fessenden? No? Check it out -- the Dr may be even more unprofessional there!


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