The sci-fi thriller Repo Men gets off to a sluggish start. But wait. You have to give the movie time to find its groove and establish its premise: In the near future, people can live much longer thanks to The Union, a manufacturer of artificial organs and body parts. The catch is that the parts don't come cheap - and if you fall behind on your payments, The Union will track you down, slice you open and reclaim what's theirs, the way a bank forecloses on a mortgage. The repossession process often has the unfortunate side effect of leaving the customer dead.
"A job's a job" is the way repo men Remy (Jude Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker) rationalize their gruesome wet work, which is tantamount to sanctioned murder. The first half of Repo Men, which was written by South Florida natives Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner and marks the debut of director Miguel Sapochnik, is somewhat discombobulating. There's no one onscreen with whom you can remotely identify or root for - certainly not Remy and Jake, who get off on taunting their prey and bragging about their collection quotas while their boss (Liev Schreiber) counts the money and ropes in more suckers. They are repellent, loathsome characters no amount of movie-star charisma can overcome.
But then, around the film's midpoint, when circumstance forces one of the repo men to consider the other side of their profession, something happens: The movie goes completely insane, in the best way possible. From the scene in which Remy discovers he can plug a set of headphones into the artificial ear of a singer (Alice Braga) he harbors a crush on, Repo Men drops all pretensions of social commentary and satire about our health-care system and the economy and becomes a rollicking B-movie, with all the sheen and gloss big-budget Hollywood can offer.
The less seriously the filmmakers treat their premise, the livelier Repo Men becomes (the picture also gets more violent as it goes along; this is an astonishingly gory movie). Beautifully shot by cinematographer Enrique Chediak (28 Weeks Later, The Faculty), the film pays homage to its obvious inspirations, such as a brief clip of the "Live Organ Transplants" segment from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life ("May we have your liver?") or a tip of the hat to the hallway fight from Oldboy. But Repo Men ends up finding its own weird, outrageous vibe - a dark, gory vision of a dystopian future leavened with cracked humor, a warped sensibility and a daring spirit. Repo Men bears no relation to 1984's Repo Man, except this: Here, again, a cult following is born.
Repo Men (*** out of ****) opens Friday, March 19 at South Florida theaters.