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Cinema Signal: Go, if you're game for ultra-violent action.
. "Repo Men"

In his feature-length film debut, Miguel Sapochnik declares his love for three things: extreme violence, talent, and futuristic cynicism. On the first count, his film might have been derived from a mix of "A Clockwork Orange" and/or "Surrogates."

On the second, he hasn't only cast one relatively obscure actress, but two, both of whom have done spectacularly fine work abroad. Alice Braga, the Brazilian beauty and the niece of Sonia Braga (what genes this family has!) her presence in American film has had a weak start in "I Am Legend." Her presence here in a much more vital role could be the start of a major career worldwide.

Next, he goes into the film world of the Netherlands to bring Carice van Houten to the attention of American audiences and studios for another great find. How many people saw this exceptional actress in "Black Book" (aka, "Zwartboek") or tied her in as a talent worth remembering from "Valkyrie?" Though her role here is subdued the way Braga's was in the aforementioned thriller, mostly because she's given so little to work with, Sapochnik's eye for bristling talent awaiting discovery, I'm glad to say, is astute.

Still on this subject, there's something to be said for returning Jude Law to the sort of role he so excelled in during the days of his early triumphs, quite notably with his Gigolo Joe in "AI" when, after Law knocked me out with his performance in "The Talented Mr. Ripley," he commanded my fullest attention. And, that was before one of his scariest roles ever, the deadly Harlen Maguire in "Road to Perdition!"

In this demonstration of ultra-violence in an age we haven't seen yet, Sapochnik might have been making a statement about the cutthroat practices of today's health insurance industry, for all the care it affords its less wealthy and more unhealthy clients. He sees human cynicism in its universal aspects, not confined to a particular time or place.

Indeed, it's an indefinite period in the future he brings us, when science has developed mechanical substitutes for just about every organ in our bodies. The company that has taken advantage of it, with a business plan that suggests today's AIG, is called "The Union." Just as big financial operations have pushed loans on people who demonstated no ability to keep them up (in recent history), so does this company sign up the terminally ill or seriously injured for organ replacements on easy credit. It's headed by the really unscrupulous scoundrel Frank (Liev Schrieber) to whom the term "moral turpitude" would sound like an additive for his car.

The client-battering relentlessness of the sales pitch on very vulnerable terminally ill patients is taken from the same book as the used-car business, though with far more potential for evil--even though it isn't going to cause an economic meltdown the way credit default swaps did. This is no financial time bomb for the company or society.

The Union has no such worries because anytime a client falls behind on their payments, a team of "repo men" are sent out to retrieve the organs which are still entirely viable for the reselling. Though a scalpel is used, the methodology requires no great surgical skill or hospital setting. It involves cutting the person open so that the agent merely has to reach in and reclaim the company's property by extraction. Any setting will do. Are you squirming a little now? Wait'll I tell you that these guys, such as Jake (Forest Whitaker) and Remy (Law), work on commission.

On the personal side, Remy's work has caused him problems. In his avid dedication to the job he does so well, he hasn't been there much for his family. His wife Carol (van Houten) has shoved him out of the house even though his little boy clings to him with adoration. When, later, he locks eyes with a exotic singer in a bar, just when his life and values are due for a makeover, his lack of family ties opens up a path to an intense relationship with the smoking Beth, virtually saving her life by pulling her out of an overdose in a dirty alley for some cold turkey in a motel room.

He reaches a point when he seriously starts to consider throwing in his scalpel in order to take a job as a saleman for the firm, a much lower-paying position. Unfortunately, his partner in crime Jake is alarmed at the prospect of such a waste of talent and does something that seriously affects their tight tie and changes Remy in the most profound way.

If you aren't too repulsed by the general ultra-violence and horror aspects and you stay with it to the end, you're in for some treats of the gross-out variety (with some flavors from "The Wild Bunch") that could send you reeling to the lobby. Young men and lovers of violence need not worry, however. This plays well to their needs for an adrenalin rush.

It's a well-made film, start to finish, with a style that could make you believe director Sapochnik learned pacing by studying Guy Ritchie ("Sherlock Holmes"). Screenplay is by Eric Garcia who wrote the chilling novel on which it's all based, "The Repossession Mambo." He also debuts in feature film writing. His co-writer Garrett Lerner springs from TV work that includes "House M.D." and "Boston Public."

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Shot in Canada, for the most part, lensing by Enrique Chediak is pro, as is the close combat chop/slash choreography. The lively, belting score is by the famed Marco Beltrami.

Though "Repo Men" suggests many an influence that may have gone into it, it's original in its holding power and design for the futurist action horror thriller genre. I've got see what this guy Sapochnik is going to do next.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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