DVD Review: Repo! The Genetic Opera.

So the nearly year-long wait is over. I’ve finally seen it. I would have reviewed this sooner, but I honestly needed to watch it twice. After the first viewing, I was left without any real words to describe how I felt about the film. After the second viewing, I’m almost in the same boat as the first viewing, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got some better thoughts in order.

In the not-too-distant future, a worldwide epidemic of organ failure spreads death and chaos. But then Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) builds GeneCo, a company that will lend you brand new organs and other such body parts, but at a price. And if you can’t pay your debts, they send out a Repo Man, a legalized assassin, to come and kill you and take back whatever it is you had put in. But now Rotti is dying and needs to give his company to somebody, though he hates his three children: the violent Luigi Largo (Bill Moseley); the face-wearing Pavi Largo (Ogre); and the surgery-addicted Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton). So he then sets his eye on Shilo Wallace (Alexa Vega), the daughter of Repo Man Nathan (Anthony Head), whose deceased wife Marni (Sarah Power) used to be his own lover. Shilo has been kept locked in her home all her life by her father due to having the same lethal blood disease that killed her mother. And everything culminates at the epic Genetic Opera, headlined by Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman). And all of this is tied together with the use of comic strips and the Greek Chorus-like Graverobber (Terrance Zdunich).

If you couldn’t tell, the plot is a bit complicated. But at the same time, it isn’t. There is a lot going on, and there are a ton of plot twists, just like any normal Opera. And that’s the thing to keep in mind when going into this movie: you have to think of it like an Opera. Practically every line is sung, no matter how inconsequential. But I also think this is one of the movie’s few downfalls, as well. The movie is described (quite appropriately) like mixing Rocky Horror Picture Show (due to its absurdness) with Blade Runner (due to its dark, dystopian setting). But I also would like to attribute it to Sweeney Todd (due to the gore, as well as a few other things that I’ll be getting to).

So let me start by discussing the music, as that’s the most important part of the film. Honestly, the music is hit or miss. Like Sweeney Todd, I felt the movie had a much stronger second half (as soon as Zydrate Anatomy begins). There are two types of songs in this movie. The first type is the ‘talky’ songs, in which there are countless numbers of all throughout. These are the ones that basically get the plot from one place to the next. They can sometimes seem awkward and forced, too, like the creators just had to have every single line sung, no matter how weird or out of place it sounded. The second type is the ‘musical’ songs. These are the ones that really make the movie shine, the types of hit songs you would expect from a musical. They aren’t just little snips to go from one point to the next, but great, toe-tapping, (sometimes hard-rocking), make-you-wanna-sing-along songs.

Now, the first half of the movie was made up of a lot of the ‘talky’ songs and only a few ‘musical’ songs tossed in. But while the ‘musical’ songs were good, they were just too few and far between. And the first half was much more focused on the gore than the music, it seemed. But once the second half starts up with Zydrate Anatomy (personally, one of my favorites in the film), the gore nearly disappears and becomes a more alluded-to thing. And then the movie has almost completely become one great ‘musical’ number after the next, with only a couple ‘talky’ songs thrown in.

And even though it’s a Rock Opera, there are many different types of songs to find in the film. There’s the heavy rock, the grunge rock, and even a bit of actual Opera. But ironically, it’s the Opera, I feel, that seems most out-of-place in the movie. Luckily, though, the Opera-esque songs are few and far between, and they’re only sung by Sarah Brightman and Paul Sorvino, who both have amazing voices.

And to get on to the actual singers/actors, let me first start with those aforementioned two. Sarah Brightman is, by far, the best singer in the film, even though she’s physically not in it a whole lot. But her Chase the Morning is another one of the best songs of the film, and it’s one of the most inventive, as the refrain is sung by Sarah Power’s Marni through a hologram ejected from her eyes. It’s nuts. On the other hand, Paul Sorvino, while he has a great voice, gets the worst songs of the film. They have him singing all over the place, doing a huge chunk of the ‘talky’ songs, and sometimes even interchanging mid-song from the ‘talky’ voice to his ‘Opera’ voice. Needless to say, that did not bode well with me.

But after Sarah Brightman, the two I felt had the best voices (and songs) in the film were Anthony Head (whom you might recognize as Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Terrance Zdunich (who is actually one of the co-creators of the original stage play, as well as reprising his role as the Graverobber). These two men actually had the ability to make even the ‘talky’ songs entertaining, which is good, considering a good chunk of what they did were along those lines. But of course I had to give it out to Terrance, as Zydrate Anatomy is basically his big number. But the only thing about Anthony Head that seemed a bit weird was he had a Gollum/Sméagol (or maybe Batman/Bruce Wayne—Christian Bale version) thing going on. He would flip back and forth from loving/caring father and crazy Repo Man, altering his voice to go along with it.

Then, of course, we have Alexa Vega, who actually does really well (I would hope, since she’s basically the main character). Her voice cracks every now and then, but I think that was a character thing. And finally, the Largo siblings: Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Ogre. Let me just put it this way: Paris Hilton was the least irritating of the three. Actually, I agree with most reviews of the film. Paris Hilton was born for the role and does it perfectly. But then again, that’s not hard to do when the role you’re playing is a spoiled, talentless heiress to a multi-billion dollar corporation. Ogre wasn’t too bad, either. He just had a distractingly cliché Italian (for no reason) voice. Though he did wear the (painted white) faces of his female lovers that he’d killed, which is neat. Though the worst casting, by far, in the entire movie, was Bill Moseley. He acted the part way too over-the-top, annoyingly, and just plain silly. It was totally out of tone for the movie, and his singing wasn’t that hot, either. He and Ogre were like the unneeded jesters of the film, ruining the overall mood.

So I’ve talked about the plot. I’ve talked about the music. I’ve talked about the singers/actors. I guess I could comment on a few of the littler things. For instance, I’m still not sure what to make of the comics-o-exposition that are scattered throughout the movie. The movie itself begins with a 3-minute sometimes-animated comic strip that gives the backstory of the movie. And then, at random intervals, the movie will freeze-frame on a character and give their sketched self to segue into the comic book ‘backstory’ of that character. I suppose it’s an interesting and unique way of doing it, and it does save time showing the little strips of explanation. But at the same time, it gets somewhat old after a while. Not to mention, depending on your TV, some of the text on the comic strips can be cut off on the screen, so you have to make some quick (though usually easy) guesses as to what’s written there (as none of it is read to you in voice-over or anything).

Overall, the movie fell a bit shorter than what I had expected. It tried a bit too hard at times to keep its non-stop singing ‘Rock Opera’ thing. The ‘talky’ songs only worked half the time; the other half they were just forced and awkward. But the ‘musical’ songs, practically every single one of them, were excellent. And the movie does have its fair share of those. But the film also has trouble with its tone. Sometimes it tries to be dark and broody. Sometimes it tries to be slapstick and silly. I think it should have picked one or the other—either it took itself seriously or it didn’t. Like I said, even though there are some really good songs in the first half, I much preferred the second half of the film. Finally, something I didn’t really comment on before, the movie itself (visually) looks excellent. There are so many great visuals, from the costumes to the settings. My final verdict? I’d say check it out, but make sure to know what you’re getting yourself into beforehand. Plus, any movie that can actually make Paris Hilton look good (by any definition of that word—looks, acting, singing) is a movie to check out.

A Keanu 'Whoa'

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