Saturday 25 October 2008

Toronto After Dark 2008 - "Repo! The Genetic Opera"

Oh man...

I honestly really wanted to like this film. Composer Terrance Zdunich stated after the screening that he believes there is an audience for a 21st century Rock Opera and I absolutely agree. With a great premise (which this film has), it could find a solid fan base and creep into the mainstream. But that's not this film. This film is quite the mess.

The back story tells us that sometime in the future, an epidemic of organ failures takes place. Financing for organ replacement is common and provided by the corporate behemoth GeneCo, but those who cannot make their payments are subjected to repossession of the most intrusive kind. As well, addictions to surgery and black market painkillers (extracted from the dead) are becoming rampant. It's fertile ground for all sorts of interesting characters and situations. But the repossession premise is, if not entirely abandoned, simply not exploited to any depth. And when it does pop up (like when one of the repo men sings about his career while he graphically slices up an unknown victim) it's almost tangential and inconsequential to the story.

But at worst, it's just frustrating that they didn't follow through with the strong concept. What really hurts the film are the choices of what gets focused on instead - specifically the sections dealing with Rotti Largo (founder of GeneCo) and his family. Largo (Paul Sorvino) has a big problem: he's dying but refuses to bequeath the company to any of his three children because he can't stand them. And neither could I since all three of them are almost unwatchable. Of course, the characters are supposed to be too stupid and crazy for their father to trust, but it kills any of the enjoyment of watching them argue and sing. Played by Bill Moseley, Paris Hilton and ex-Skinny Puppy vocalist Nivek Ogre, the characters lack any subtlety, are downright annoying and have forgettable songs.

And speaking of the music, it never felt totally integrated into the story. As a matter of fact, I didn't find that it ever really drove the narrative. Most of the story was done through exposition between songs or via individual sung/spoken lines that didn't seem to tie into any of the melodies of the main songs. As for the melodies themselves I really can't say that many were memorable. There's indeed some riffs that had some potential and a couple of songs had some call and response that seemed to briefly work, but there were far too many moments of singers singing, no scratch that, screaming themselves over each other. So perhaps there was more narrative drive in the songs - it's just that I couldn't make out the lyrics to know that.

I do have to say that Sarah Brightman was one of the highlights. Even with her spooky CGI eyes, she's quite the stunning woman with a strong presence and of course a massive voice. Anthony Stewart Head also embraces his role for all its worth - as a doctor protecting his teenage daughter from the outside world due to her rare blood disease. Two other things I liked: the animated sections that covered the history of GeneCo plus character back stories and some of the colourful lighting schemes (as you can see from the screenshots). I wish they had really focused on keeping bright colours across all the scenes, but it wasn't consistent and there were plenty of other moments that were just visually ugly with set design seeming to be all over the place.

In the end, the film simply failed to be any fun at all. I can't help but feel that this film desperately wants (and I think even expects) to be the next Rocky Horror Picture Show, but in the guise of a Rock Opera. I wish that it could be, but this isn't the film to do that. Not at all.

The evening wasn't a loss though. And that's due to the absolutely wonderful two minutes of "The Flower" - the Short that started things off. I don't need to say anything else except that there were actually people guffawing due to it. Yep, guffaws...Just watch it here:

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