When Repo! The Genetic Opera touts itself as an original and daring premise — a horror rock opera — it’s whistling the wrong tune. It’s been done before, in every single solitary way, in every facet of the production, and it’s been done better. Name the game: rock opera (Tommy), horror musical (Sweeney Todd), gory slashfest (Dead Alive), killer surgeons (Dr. Giggles), even dystopian future (Blade Runner). The film ends up a boiled ghoulash, stinking up the joint with so many discordant elements you’re not quite sure what you’re smelling. It’s a brave endeavor and an admirable attempt, but in the end it just dissolves into a gooey slop of failure.
Repo tries to style itself for the faux facial piercing and fishnet Hot Topic crowd. Its merchandise will cult itself on the walls between the Invader Zim messenger bags and Emily the Strange notepads. It’s wrapped in leather and lace packaging for those waiting gleefully for the next Marilyn Manson opus while discreetly scarring their pasty white thighs with a Gillette Quattro. The production look will give emo boys lonely boners, and that’s the ultimate problem with the film. It’s Hot Topic goods: selling themselves for more than they’re worth, slathering themselves with neato decals, but underneath all of that, it’s cheaply cobbled together crap and falls apart under the weight of its own perceived coolness.
Darren Lynn Bousman, who took his dick out of fucking up the Saw franchise long enough to smear it all over this project, handles the film with the same admirable skill that’s made him a household groan among modern horror fans. He randomly slaps together four hundred and eightyteen YouTube videos of Tool music-video homages and throws as much visual stimuli as possible in the hopes you will be so dazzled by the morbidity you’ll forget you’re gazing at garbage. Bousman borrows heavily from Baz Luhrman’s lush cinematic epilepsy or Ridley Scott’s neon techno-hell, but without any of the artistry of either. I can’t deny the film looks cool, sort of George Orwell meets Orson Welles, if they were trying to remake AI. The set pieces and costumes all resemble a Goth prom or leftovers from the next Crow sequel. Lots of heavy black eyeliner, black crinoline, thigh-boots, foreign military uniforms in pleather, and absinthe-tinted flourescent steampunk.
The basic plot sounded promising, especially for a musical (which tend towards the flimsy). In 2056, a worldwide epidemic causes massive organ failure. A company called GeneCo develops a cheap way to do body augmentation surgery, including organ replacement. The procedures are extremely expensive. When people fail to pay, GeneCo calls in the contract, which means a “repossession man” is sent out to carve out the still dripping organs from the negligent client. It’s an excuse to show a lot of screaming, sketchy looking guys getting big rubber-looking guts torn out by guys in rubber ET fetcher uniforms. Maybe I’m behind on my anatomy, but the last time I checked, a spinal cord didn’t look like a loaf of challah bread.
If this was where they left it, the film might have worked. However, as we get deeper into the “plot,” this is where the movie goes completely off the rails. Most of what I’m going to tell you is revealed in expository comic book panels, which are terribly drawn, exceptionally cheesy, and totally choppy. The comic panels are why the film feels like it was nailed together haphazardly from whatever they felt like shooting. Shilo (Alexa Vega) lives alone with her father Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head), a supposed surgeon who moonlights as a repo man. Shilo’s mother Marni died during her birth after her father poisoned her while trying to cure her of a mysterious blood disease that now affects Shilo. Nathan can only save one, so he slices open his wife to extract the squalling baby. Meanwhile, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), the leader of GeneCo and savior of the people, is dying of an incurable disease and does not want to leave control to his three idiot children: Luigi (Bill Moseley), his homicidally tempermental eldest son; Pavi (Ogre from the band Skinny Puppy), his inexplicably falsettoed son who has a penchant for wearing other people’s faces over his own; and Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton), his drug-and-surgery addicted daughter and wannabe singer. Rotti was in love with Marni, who instead fell in love with Nathan. Rotti wants to get his revenge before he dies. The revenge is unnecessarily convoluted and confusing, like trying to build a love triangle out of one of the killing machines from Saw. At some point, a chicken kicks a football into a garden hose, and a puppet knocks over some dominoes, and Chunk does the Truffle Shuffle for Corey Feldman, and then I think someone gets castrated with a rusty bear trap. I don’t know. I was too distracted by all the rock opera-ing.
Allegedly, Repo! contains 64 different songs. I say allegedly, because everything seems to blend together in this constant backwash of synthesizer and guitar riffs, cobbled with too much sing-talking and a few occasional belts of true notes. There are two or three songs that are absolutely terrific and make me wonder if this wouldn’t have just worked better as a straight musical ala the Rocky Horror Picture Show this film desperately wishes it was. Tommy made the operatic format work because it could pull off the random cameos since the songs were performed by musicians doing a whole lot of drugs. With Repo! most of the numbers, if they can even be called that, are forced and awkward and really detract from the talent of the actors. For a movie that’s trying to coast on its own self-deluded awesomeness and weirdness, the lyrics are shamefully boring. It’s like the Dr. Seuss version of Hamlet:
“The king’s boinking my mother, and he killed my dad!
My girlfriend’s gone crazy and it’s all making me sad!
Ghost Daddy told me that big boys don’t cry!
So I’ll get me real angry and make sure they die!
I’ll cut out their gizzards, their livers, their eyes!
I’ll gouge out their innards and bake them in pies!
I’ll chop up their flamfoozles and cook them in a pot!
And if I run out of make up words, I’ll use the f-word alot!”
Repo! started out as a small stage play, which gradually expanded on the universe until the final version lurched out into theatres. It was the brainchild of Darren Smith and Terrence Zdunich, and you can see elements of originality within this bastardized finale. Zdunich retains his part as the Grave-Robber, a drugdealer who acts as pseudo-narrator and is featured in most of the good songs in the film. If they had abandoned the crappy comic-strip filler and just let Zdunich narrate, with a few expository songs, it assuredly would have been stronger. Instead, they were banking on the outrageous randomness of the rest of their cast and that people would go see a gore-soaked musical featuring this motley crew. It almost worked.
The Largo clan manages to take the brunt of the suckage on this film, because there’s nothing for them to do but sing poorly and overact. Paul Sorvino is the obvious choice for a patriarch: he oozes gravitas. Rotti suffers from a dearth of interesting songs, spending most of the movie sing-talking his lines and occasionally firing off a big ol’ Pagliacci lament. He still fares better than his poor offspring, who all should have been removed still screaming from the film. Bill Moseley’s Luigi spends most of the movie doing an imitation of Sportacus from Lazy Town (or one of those plastic Jay Leno chinned Duracell people for the less Nickelodeon inclined) while randomly stabbing people and shouting fuck. Having a lit fuse coming out of his back would have been too subtle. I can’t figure out what the fuck Ogre was trying to do with Pavi. His purpose in the movie seems to be to look cool in publicity stills, otherwise the character is totally unnecessary. The least offensive was Paris Hilton as Amber Sweet because she was tailor made for the role. She plays a spoiled, drug-addicted twat who can’t sing and humiliates her father with her shameful antics and behavior. She hits one song, ruining it only with her awkward gyrations. She adds to the dream reel in my head by breaking down in the middle of a performance when her over-surgically enhanced face falls off during the song. If they really wanted to test Paris’ new BFF, it’d be the person who made it to the end of this film without crying. But on the plus side, when being eye-raped, tears act as natural lubricant.
The movie maintains a mere semblance of quality with the performance of Anthony Stewart Head as Nathan. He’s sort of like a Jekyll-and-Hyde version of Noah Bennett from “Heroes,” a man who’ll do bad things to raise his daughter right. I’ve never watched a minute of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” so I can’t speak to his Giles, but the man’s got some pipes. He toes the line of brutality and kindness well, all while spouting some terrible lyrics. Nathan’s the kind of guy who’ll be patting his daughter’s head in one scene, and viciously eviscerating a hapless victim with a giant scalpel in the next, and both are totally believable. The only person who manages to trump him is Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag, the darling of the Genetic Opera. Brightman’s performance is excellent, because she doesn’t have much to do but sing and look amazing. Obviously, she was going to be the strongest singer. But it’s the visuals of Blind Mag that makes her performance work. Mag has electronic eyes, these aquamarine gems sunk in raccoon bordered eyes and a pale white face haloed with dark hair. She’s a gothic goddess, so stunning that if Tim Burton were to see this movie, he would break up with Helena Bonham Carter and start making good movies again. Then there’s Alexa Vega. There’s nothing wrong with her performance, but there’s nothing standout. She’s a decent singer at times, and she’s a somewhat talented actress. But any of the overteens playing on the Disney or Nick networks could have been plunked into the part without missing a beat. It’s indicative of the generic quality of young actors and actresses that she’s so interchangeable.
The entire movie keeps trying to convince everyone, including itself, of how stylish and disturbing it is, but there’s no substance to back that up. It totally falls apart in the end sequence, which could have been the salvation. Sarah Brightman’s swan song performance was the best part of the movie. The rest withered on the vine. The movie felt like it was trying to top the operatic gunfight of The Fifth Element, combining violence and musicality, but neither of these elements mattered by the time this behemoth lumbered across the finish line. It fizzled out by the end credits, in some sort of a lame nod towards making a sequel.
This will do strong business on DVD, if only for the curious to see just how bad it is. It’s not god awful, it’s just childish. It’s the kind of thing you expect to be scribbled in the back of a composition book by an eyelined teen who reads too much Jhonen Vasquez and is saving barista tips for a new tattoo. In the onslaught of Oscar contenders, this is going to get ripped out of the cinemas and plunked into Netflix queues like a fresh stretch of intestine. And it’ll smell just as fresh.
Brian Prisco is a burger whisperer from the hills and valleys of North Hollywood, by way of the fiery streets of Philadelphia. When not casting his slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in an attempt to make sense of this crazy little thing called love, he can be found with his nose in a book in an attempt to make a grown woman cry when he beats her in the Cannonball Read. You can pick a fight with him via email at .com or decipher his crazy ramblings at The Gospel According to Prisco. Hail Discordia!
Repo the Genetic Opera / Brian Prisco
Film | November 12, 2008 | Comments ()