A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this offbeat horror movie/musical -- which is set in a near-future where people can buy plastic surgery and genetically engineered replacement organs on credit -- is extraordinarily violent (in some cases, the organs are repossessed). Livers, hearts, viscera, and entire spinal columns are pulled from unwilling victims, in many cases while they're still living. Paris Hilton appears in the film, which may attract teens' attention; but unless your teens have a strong stomach, they may not wish to see Ms. Hilton in special-effects makeup that makes her look like her skinned face is visible, with flayed musculature and blood showing over the bones of her skull. There's also plenty of strong language, some drinking, and brief topless female nudity.
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What's the story?
In a near-future mega-city, the population has been ravaged by a series of plagues that induce massive organ failure. The GeneCo Corporation has amassed a fortune (and political power) by giving people the replacement organs they need to live -- at a price. When GeneCo clients fall behind in their payments, GeneCo dispatches the Repo Man (Anthony Head), a doctor/thug who removes the organs in question in fatal ways. The Repo Man keeps his work a secret from his ailing daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega), but Shilo's being approached by the head of GeneCo, the ailing Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), who has a plan for her to take the reins of the company instead of his squabbling children.
Is it any good?
REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA began as a stage play musical; the screen version is bigger, bolder -- and bloodier. The plot combines elements of The Little Mermaid (Shilo, confined to home by illness and a protective father, longs to see the world outside) and King Lear (the dying Largo tries to find a suitable heir for his corporate kingdom), along with a subplot revolving around drug and surgical addiction and an opera singer (Sarah Brightman) who owes her very sight to Largo's corporation and goodwill. But the songs aren't particularly memorable, and while Repo! The Genetic Opera is trying to put a 21st-century spin on the goofy, giddy operatic style of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this movie is gory and grisly where its inspiration is campy and clever.
But many of the performers are game, especially in their musical performances; Head, for one, has a reedy tenor that sounds not unlike David Bowie, and the operatically trained Sorvino has a rippling, rich baritone that makes his musical numbers pulse with power. Director Darren Lynn Bousman wrings every possible penny of production value out of his budget -- the Blade Runner-inspired future mega-city is an eye-popper -- but the comic-book style graphic interludes that set up the story and show viewers establishing flashbacks are so static and long that they become a bore. Bousman also doesn't do much to shape the material or the performances in a clear way, choosing instead to let the hammering, droning songs propel the film from one moment of special-effects gore to the next. The people behind Repo! The Genetic Opera unquestionably have plenty of passion; regrettably, they could have used a bit less passion and a little more thought and judicious editing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about who this film is meant to appeal to. Horror movie fans? Musical fans? Do many people like both genres? How does a movie become a "cult classic"? Families can also discuss the film's messages. Is it meant to be taken seriously? Do you think healthcare corporations put profit before patients? What happens when people can't pay for life-saving medical treatments? Is there a danger of too much financial and political power being in the hands of one corporation?
- In theaters: November 7, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 2009
- Cast: Alexa Vega, Anthony Head, Sarah Brightman
- Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong bloody violence and gore, language, some drug and sexual content