Before I went to see Repo!: The Genetic Opera, I knew two things about it: Paris Hilton’s face falls off and Anthony Stewart Head sings. That was really all I needed.
After seeing the movie, I know a few more things—for example, that Anthony Stewart Head is drop-dead fabulous. No surprise there. But apparently Paris Hilton can sing! Good for her. No tongue in cheek, I actually did like her in this movie, which was, overall, characterized by strong performances and a slightly muddled script.
The premise: in the not-too-distant future, an epidemic of organ failure prompts the rise of GeneCo, which both provides replacement organs and finances the loans to pay for them. Miss a payment, and a Repo Man comes to collect GeneCo’s property. (Exhibit A at right.)
The plot: By day, the Repo Man (played by Head) is well-meaning but controlling single dad Nathan Wallace. His daughter Shilo has a Victorian-sounding “blood condition” and is supposed to stay inside, but she’s a teenager, so that lasts for about five minutes. On one of her excursions to her mother’s tomb, she meets the Graverobber, who mines the bodies of the dead for an addictive painkiller he sells on the black market.
Meanwhile, Rotti Largo, the head of GeneCo, is dying. His nasty brood of children are all vying for Daddy’s favor, but he’s sick of all three: violent Luigi, suave Pavi (who wears other people’s faces clipped to his) and plastic-surgery and painkiller-addict Amber Sweet (Hilton).
Little Amber also has musical aspirations, so Largo wants an opera singer named Blind Mag out of the way and plans to use the Repo Man to take her down. For reasons of his own, Nathan doesn’t want to do it. Largo’s new idea is to use Nathan’s daughter Shilo to get revenge on Nathan, and all of this revenge and murder business will take place at a gathering that night: The Genetic Opera, a cross between a concert and a GeneCo pep rally. There’s blood. There are eyeballs. Paris Hilton’s face falls off, and Anthony Stewart Head sings while wearing vinyl and being strapped into a wheelchair. Really, what could be bad?
Aside from Head, the real show-stopper in Repo! is Alexa Vega, the girl from Spykids and most lately from the Broadway musical Hairspray!. She’s sweet and tough as Nathan’s cooped-up daughter Shilo, with real acting chops and a great voice. Terrance Zdunich, Repo!‘s cowriter, is absolutely magnetic as the Graverobber, and, as I mentioned, Paris Hilton can vamp it up with the best of them. The other two Largo children, Luigi and Pavi, have great antagonistic chemistry and are totally crazy, in a fun way. Sadly, I found Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag to be stiff and awkward and her voice not as fabulous as I was expecting, given that she’s a famous singer and all. Oh, well.
There is a lot of infodumping (of, like, Half-Blood Prince proportions), sometimes contained in the songs and sometimes in cool, comic-style insets, but a few hints from someone used to writing genre prose might have helped them blend the background information in better. Still, I was wishing for some script revisions rather than a cup of coffee or a bullet; for me at a musical, that’s good. The beginning was a little slow, but every time I was tempted to check the time, Anthony Stewart Head hit a high note and I stopped breathing for a second.
The singing is great. Some of the music is messy, but the songs with a little more structure, the ones that feel like actual “numbers,” really drew me in. Check out “Seventeen,” “Let the Monster Rise” and “Zydrate Anatomy.” (Warning: that last one is slightly bloody.) I love the way the scenes flicker at the end, though. Little bits of schizo editing work for this movie, and overall, the look is a punky, gritty, gothic-Lolita hodgepodge. Minus ten points for putting Anthony Stewart Head in an ugly shapeless cardigan (even Giles got tailored tweed!), but a million points for the hair, make-up and prosthetics.
Repo! is one of those movies that follows you out of the theater, bops around your head for a few days, and grows on you, like fungus. Or someone else’s face. I’m still not sure I’m not crazy for liking Repo! so much, but I’m not the only one—it’s inspired the same kind of fan-driven viral promotion that sprung up around Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: original animation, street performances, MySpace pages for the characters and more impassioned LJ posts than you can shake a scalpel at. I recommend it, with a caveat for those who are easily upset by blood, guts, knives, needles, aqeuous humor, senseless violence, questionable rhyme schemes, and hot people singing. If you get a kick out of any or all of the above, you might give Repo! a try. The Graverobber says, the first taste is free.
Pictures capped from promotional material on Repo!: The Genetic Opera’s official site.