Movie review: "Repo! The Genetic Opera" (Lionsgate)


Bad is bad; there won’t be much controversy about that. A semi-amusing concept by L.A. mini-theater guys Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, about organ repossession in the year 2056, was utterly wrecked by making it into an “opera” with the authors’ horrible music and even worse lyrics. The only interesting thing about it is trying to figure out how director Darren Lynn Bousman (of the second, third and fourth “Saw” flicks) involved players like Paris Hilton, Paul Sorvino and Anthony Stewart Head.

For Bousman, this appears to be a debt repayment. Smith and Zdunich let him direct the stage version of “Repo!” before he broke huge, then he found himself in the position to muscle veteran “Saw” producer Daniel Jason Heffner into backing “Repo!” Heffner in turn churned the Hollywood whirlpool that sucked in the cash and the talent. Everybody lost.

Except Paris. Better not scrutinize Hilton’s celebrity lest its fragile charm crumble, but her face/mask blends virgin and whore in a peculiar way that makes you want to look at her. In a part obviously written for Hilton, she plays (or models as) a girl obsessed with frequent identity changes, which gives her a chance to get repeatedly remade and squeezed into ridiculotic costumes. She must have had fun.

On the other hand, one can only imagine the suffering endured by Paul Sorvino (“Goodfellas,” “Law & Order”), Anthony Stewart Head (“Sweeney Todd”), Ogre (Skinny Puppy) and megapopular soprano Sarah Brightman as they lip-synched lyric lines like “That’s what’s expected/When you are infected.” With “Repo!” based on what was originally a 10-minute play, and the “Saw” films requiring nothing more than a series of torture vignettes, both creators and director lacked experience in telling an extended story. It’s painful to watch as they attempt to accomplish plot development through captionlike cartoon explication and an unbelievably hamfisted libretto.

While Bousman has touted his admiration for “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Tommy,” and Hilton hopes “Repo!” will become another “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” maybe somebody should’ve exposed those prototypes to Smith and Zdunich, whose songwriting skills don’t match the least of their predecessors. True to their 10-minute-play aesthetic, they commence 100 musical themes only to abandon them eight seconds later; the music seems to have been composed to fit the lyrics, and the lyrics seem to have been lifted directly from notes on matchbook covers. Musicians from Jane’s Addiction, Slipknot, Ozzy and many more try hard on the soundtrack (also released separately), but quickly run out of turd polish, achieving at best only a faintly gothy, cholera-decimated echo of Rammstein.

“Saw” fans will not be disappointed by the ample carvings, gushings and organ tossings, if that’s all they want. But if they want camp on the order of “Rocky Horror” or even “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein,” they’ll wonder where the funny went. And if they want social commentary, they’ve probably already failed to guess how a film can simultaneously criticize our obsession with pointless violence and pander to it.

If you’re a visual aesthete, the aptly named “Saw” production designer David Hackl may please, offering surreal future cityscapes and richly detailed modern-gothic interiors. Rent the video and watch it with your own soundtrack. Try Scriabin.