Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) Movie Review

Even people who absolutely hate modern musical movies, like Rent or Chicago, will appreciate the amount of effort put into Repo! The Genetic Opera. It’s not some backyard film disguised as nothing more than an extended music video. While it has some of the same visual production elements it carries none of the preconceptions about genre or propriety. It borrows from so many places that, somewhere along the way, it grew an original energy of it’s own. Unfortunately, the brazen ego and over-confidence imbued in it never fully allow the entire production to get out of it’s own way. The final product turns out to be a confused and muddy mix of too many brilliant colors that could have been so much more with just a little less.

Repo! The Genetic Opera written & composed by Darren Smith and Terrence Zdunich started out as a ten minute “cabaret” piece, performed in small venues. Once arrogant slasher film director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III & IV) got involved and turned it into a short-film, the next step to full-blown “opera” seemed a logical step. That’s pretty much where logic and reasonable description end.

It’s really not necessary to describe plot for Repo because it might confuse things for anyone who wants to just enjoy the music and choreography. For anyone who has been exposed to traditional opera, Repo follows the classical formula of tragedy. Obviously, the centerpiece of the story is the gothically dark story about a dystopian world plagued with an epidemic that causes organ failure. Those who can’t afford their replacement organs are forced become indebted to GeneCo and live in constant fear of the repo men, legal assassins who really enjoy their work. Also center stage is a young girl trapped by an overbearing father to protect her from the big bad world that took her mother from him when she was born yearns to be free. Throw in a psycho family at the head of the largest and most powerful company in the world and sprinkle a few small, but equally as tortured, characters from the sordid past and you’ve got operatic tragedy. Now, take all that and set it to music. GO!

Sadly mixed with the stellar, blockbuster performances of Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Sarah Brightman are lackluster efforts by Alexa Vega and Paris Hilton, who both have talent but would have been better off with a little vocal coaching and better direction. Having already been in the musical Romeo + Juliet Paul Sorvino already understands his limitations and only attempts to sing when he really needs to belt out an operatic vibrato, which he does admirably well. Stomping around, cursing and screaming in two of the most obnoxious and offensive performances, ever, are Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy and veteran horror film actor Bill Moseley (House of 1000 Corpses, Carnivále).

The biggest treat in the entire movie is relative newcomer Terrance Zdunich, the co-creator, as GraveRobber. Used as a, sort of, chorus (the narrator in many of Shakespeare’s plays) GraveRobber appears in the movie throughout to belt out some of the best music in the entire musical and also to tie together and transition critical portions of the story. Many have compared him to Richard O’Brien (Rocky Horror Picture Show) but with his flawless vocals and mesmerizing facial theatrics Zdunich reminds one more of Tim Curry’s Frankenfurter. Zdunich has the potential to be a serious draw in both Broadway and Hollywood so he’ll be one to watch, just you wait and see.

With a real director and, possibly, a producer with enough sense, and some courage, to reign everything and everyone in a little, this movie could have been entirely brilliant instead of just fleeting moments of it interlaced with uncomfortable white noise. Repo! suffers from the belief that “if one is good then two are better.” In this case it’s more like “one hundred are better.” So, instead of a pleasing blend of stars, music, visual imagery and story it turns out to have too much of nearly every good thing.

The two featurettes and commentary on the DVD don’t really offer much of interest except for a little back story from Smith and Zdunich about how Repo went from short performance to the big screen and a wealth of opportunities for Darren Bousman to brag about himself.

Darren Lynn Bousman (director) / Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich (screenplay)
CAST: Alexa Vega … Shilo Wallace
Paul Sorvino … Rotti Largo
Anthony Head … Nathan / Repo Man
Sarah Brightman … Blind Mag
Paris Hilton … Amber Sweet
Bill Moseley … Luigi Largo
Nivek Ogre … Pavi Largo

Buy Repo! The Genetic Opera on DVD