Thursday, November 06, 2008

For Cult Film Oddballs Only: Repo! The Genetic Opera

It is very distracting to watch a film whose makers are clearly ignorant of the plot twists in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. However, the description, “rock opera helmed by the director of Saw 2 co-starring Paris Hilton,” will probably be sufficient to convince most viewers to keep their distance. Those instincts are not wrong in the case of The Genetic Opera (trailer here), opening today in select cities.

It’s the year 2056 and life stinks. For vague environmental reasons, an epidemic of organ failures led to the rise of GeneCo, a medical-pharmaceutical corporation. Since this is a movie, you know the corporation must be evil, and is GeneCo ever so. Yes, they supply replacement organs, but their terms are what might be considered sub-prime, and their evil founder Rotti Largo loves nothing better than to order their repossession when their recipients fall into arrears. Of course, in Merchant, Shylock is foiled in his attempt to extract his pound of flesh, because he had no right to any of Antonio’s blood. (OK, maybe it was not Shakespeare’s greatest plot point, but Repo’s logical gaps are far more egregious.)

Like all movie businessmen, Rotti is evil in all aspects of life. He murdered his ex-lover, tricking her husband, Dr. Nathan Wallace, into believing he was responsible. Blackmailed by Rotti, the tortured Dr. Wallace, unfortunately a GeneCo employee, becomes his Repoman. In between ridiculously gruesome repossessions, Wallace tends to his sickly daughter Shilo, desperately seeking a cure for her rare blood disease.

A clichéd plot could be forgiven if the music of Repo was compelling. Unfortunately, it is not. In this context, rock opera seems to mean characters constantly wailing their angst, with little discernable variance in mood, melody, tempo, or dynamics. There is no flag-waving opener, or even a love ballad. Repo is based on a successful stage musical that had successful runs in Los Angeles and Toronto, but clearly something was lost in translation.

One guesses Paul Sorvino accepted the role of Largo for the opportunity to exercise his operatic chops. Anthony Head, best known as Giles in Buffy the Vampire-Slayer, must have agreed to play Dr. Wallace in hopes of boosting his asking price for fan conventions. In her first screen role, Sarah Brightman absolutely has the voice for Blind Mag, the opera diva spokesperson for GeneCo. In fact, the voices of all the principals are strong, but are undermined by the undistinguished tunes.

The most successful aspect of Repo is the Creepshow-like comic book interludes. They give the film a distinctive look and help set the macabre atmosphere. However, the rest of the film looks deliberately low budget, perhaps to court the cult film subculture. They will probably eat it up at midnight movie screenings. Hey, nobody’s forcing them, but have pity on the projectionists.