Oct 5, 2009

[Movies] Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

Repo! The Genetic OperaMusicals tend to come in all shapes and sizes, figuratively speaking. Let's face it, if you're a good enough lyricist determined to tell a story through song, then you can theoretically write a musical about pretty much anything. We've seen plays dedicated to spelling bees and even some about TV talk show hosts. The possibilities are limitless.

That kind of diversity has resulted in some pretty interesting stories being told on the stage or even the silver screen. Gone are the days when musicals need only be about much older, kinder times. Oh no, these days the greater challenge is telling more and more contemporary stories through song, thus capturing the current era in a musical format.

The current movie being reviewed is precisely that, a very new take on what musicals can do or perhaps just an update of a very old theme.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is a rock opera / musical film set in the year 2056. After a massive epidemic of organ failures, GeneCo emerged as a radical new company that offered organ transplants to the needy via highly affordable insurance-style payment schemes. Now that everyone can get major surgeries on credit, it's triggered a cultural shift where voluntary surgery is considered cool or hip, which has made GeneCo and its owner Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) very rich and powerful. So powerful, that GeneCo can now legally repossess the organs of those who default on their payments using "Repo Men" to harvest what is owed. The only challenge facing Rotti is who to name as the heir to inherit his mega-corporation: his intelligent yet short-tempered son Luigi (Bill Moseley), his surgery-addicted daughter Amber (Paris Hilton) or his face-stealing son Pavi (Ogre).

The other aspect of this story involves a young girl named Shilo Wallace (Alexa Vega) who lives alone with her father Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head). She is suffering from a rare blood disease and it's only the medical abilities of her father that keep her alive. However given her condition, he's highly protective of her and never lets her leave the house. At the same time, Nathan has a darker secret he's hiding from his daughter - the fact that he is a Repo Man for GeneCo and has committed unspeakable acts as part of his service.

I know, I know, that seemed like an overly long summary. But despite how long that went on, you won't believe just how much more there is to the story than that. It's one of the quirks of this little piece - just how complex the entire tales turns out to be and the manner in which we as an audience learn about the full truth of things.

The movie certainly caught me by surprise with his rather passionate score that mixes influences from Phantom of the Opera, Rent, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a dash of Sweeney Todd, too. Of course I cite a lot of these plays given their strong rock music vibe, which is precisely the tone the movie tries to capture. My favorite songs tend to be the ones that involve the narrator-like character of GraveDigger (Terrance Zdunich), such as Zydrate Anatomy or the ones with the genetic opera singer, Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) like Chase the Morning.

Of course there are other songs that seem a tad forced and sometimes downright campy, especially those involving the Largo children. I'm not sure how intentional this was, but it certainly didn't make those characters any more likable.

LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 06:  (L-R) Director Darre...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I have to admit that the casting choices seemed a tad unusual in the beginning but made a lot more sense in the end. Loathe as I am to admit it, but Paris actually fit her role very well and pulled it off more than decently. It was also nice to see Anthony Head in such a violent and powerful role as opposed to the mousy and downright timid typecast he developed from his years on the Buffy TV show.

This movie does have a LOT of gore, and that's to be expected from the same producers that brought us the Saw franchise of movies. The sequences that are very violent tend to become almost absurd at some points given the characters are still singing their respective songs. Thus the earlier reference to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. If you could handle that movie, then this one should be okay.

Oh, and side kudos definitely needs to go out to the animators and special effects folks. They way they rendered the city in CGI and even the comic book style scenes used to explain some of the back story were awesome in their own right and my partner and I thought that the movie still would have worked even if it had been completely animated.

Repo! The Genetic Opera gets 4 vials of freshly harvested Zydrate out of a possible 5.

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