Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Repo! The Genetic Opera, or "There's a reason you haven't heard of it."

I was sold a bill of goods by a friend recently.

She told me that Repo: The Genetic Opera was a life changing experience. That it was the most inspired bit of musical theater to hit in decades (another friend has said basically the same thing about The Book of Mormon sight unseen) and that it was a travesty that Hollywood scammed the idea to make a cheesy scifi flick with Jude Law (that one might be fairly prescient). Really, she wasn’t upselling to the degree I describe, but my mind likes to think so.

That understood, I set down to watch it last week a bit skeptical but fairly hopeful.

I was crushed under the weight of how terrible it was.

Not only were the majority of songs forgettable and the mixture of arias with punk and gothcore painfully awkward, what really disappointed me was the story. Well, that and seeing Anthony Stewart Head lose most of the cred he’s garnered from his long run as one of geekdom’s favorite father figures, Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

That the world has devolved into a society obsessed with immortality and beauty through medical transplants isn’t jarring at all, really. I could totally dig it, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s presented as a farce with little in the way of believability. Not-Giles, ahem… Nathan, has sheltered his daughter from the dangers of the world, keeping her locked tight in a stereotypical gilded cage filled with hologram after hologram of his late wife, her mother. Criminal capitalist, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) employs Nathan as the RepoMan both to make money by murdering delinquent clients to resell their slightly used artificial organs and take twisted revenge on Nate for stealing his lover years ago… blah, blah, blah… blah, blah.

The story is extremely thin, told mostly through sheltered Shilo’s (Alex Vega) perspective, with a little less (but still significant) screen time for Sorvino and Head’s Javert/Valjean back and forth. To fill the gaps, it runs itself ragged trying to be as convoluted as possible, spoiling different sides to characters’ stories in between-scene comic panels. That the comic pages themselves are unreliable narrators is sloppy writing on behalf of the play’s authors Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, the latter of whom having a major part as the rather uninspired other narrator to the tale (yes, I did say “other”), the drugdealer known only as Graverobber, is kind of telling.

Then there are the horribly conceived subplots.

There’s a drug harvested from corpses that seems to be a big plot point but isn’t and is poor even as a metaphor, the trio of ne’er-do-well heirs to Paul Sorvino’s criminal(?) empire show up to sing crappy songs that highlight their faults but never actually do anything besides the occasional bit of posturing or murder someone from the chorus. Finally, the extremely popular (Why? She sings, what, one song?) dystopian singer Blind Mags (Sarah Brightman) is going to be murdered for her cybernetic Rotti-corp eyes and she’s the main protagonist’s godmother… for some reason.

From its conception, I think Repo was designed to be a Greek tragedy using modern subcultures as a motif. It has a classic arc and used classic devices, even the use of throwaways as metaphors like a philter of poison… seen here as the corpse-harvested drug, Zydrate. Still, all it seems to do is take the old mistakes and weakness of the style and throw it together haphazardly. There really is no point to the Graverobber other than to show up conveniently first to compromise Shilo, then perhaps help/harm her later. It’s a Harry Sue role that I just can’t forgive Zdunich for. And the constant beating the dead horse that Rotti hates his kids but hates Nathan just that much more? There’s only so much classical vendetta that a person can take outside of Shakespeare.

And I really do hate to even consider mentioning Shakespeare in conjunction with Repo: TGO. It’s just that bad.

Still, it tries… and it was good to see Joan Jett during Shilo’s teenaged rebellion punk song “Seventeen.” I just saw her in concert the other month and she still rocks pretty hard. She just can’t save Repo with her thirty seconds of screen cameo.

So, stay away folks… you are soooo much safer watching Jude Law and Forest Whittaker in Repo Men.

-Nick Michael

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