Repo! The Genetic Opera is tailor-made to attract a fan following in coming years. To an extent, this stage-inspired future-set goth-rock horror musical already has, and its limited release – not to mention a concurrent road-show tour – is fitting for a film unique enough to never worry itself (nor its studio) with a screen count in the triple digits. This is a cult classic in waiting for Hot Topic teens who still believe that Tim Burton directed The Nightmare Before Christmas and won't know who Joan Jett is when she makes an appearance; the emphasis here falls heavily on 'cult' and not so much 'classic'.
The year is 2056, and chronic organ failure has led biotech giant GeneCo to become the world's leading supplier of organ transplants, with the catch being that repossession of said organs after any missed payments tends to be a fatal affair. As Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) presides over the company, he keeps one particular repo assassin under his thumb: Nathan Wallace (Anthony Head), a scientist by trade and an overprotective father to his sick daughter, Shilo (Alexa Vega). As Rotti's children (played by Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Nivek Ogre) bicker over which of them will become heir to the corporate throne, he begins to take an active interest in Shilo, for reasons to be revealed just in time for a climactic opera every bit as Grand Guignol as that which has preceded it.
There's also a grave-digging narrator (Terrance Zdunich, playing the part he co-created on stage) who peddles a drug harvested from corpses, and a glassy-eyed singer (Sarah Brightman) with her own secrets to share, but some things are perhaps best left to unfold by way of Flash-animated comic book panels. Overlapping characters, agendas and flashbacks make for the necessary evil of an exposition-heavy first half, but things pick up as the show draws near, and having directed the stage production before, Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III, IV) seems confident in just where his vision of a washed-out future will lead.
The music, I'm afraid, is a different story, a collection of atonal melodies and relentlessly repetitive lyrics that are rarely livened up by Bousman's choppiest editing and roving camera and may cause one to wonder if the original ten-minute incarnations of the stage show and the film pitch weren't just long enough for this concept not to grow weary. Even when Shilo energetically belts out about being seventeen years old (during which Jett makes her aforementioned and aptly rockin' appearance), the number proves itself more memorable under two minutes than any of its relatively rambling counterparts on the soundtrack. To put it bluntly: this is no Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the fact that Repo! allegedly has the most songs composed for a single film suggests a greater value in quantity over quality.
Performance-wise, however, no one in the ensemble can really be knocked for lack of trying. Vega (all grown up after Spy Kids and Sleepover) and Head (of extensive theatrical background and that one musical episode of "Buffy") together bring a convincingly conflicted father-daughter relationship, and Sorvino grounds the proceedings in the same way he had Baz Luhrmann's similarly frantic adaptation of Romeo + Juliet. On the opposite side of the schlock spectrum, Hilton even boasts an air of awareness to the fact that she's playing a doped-up bimbo heiress so fond of surgery that her face barely remains attached to her face.
When I saw the film at Fantastic Fest back in September, those fans in attendance, many of them costumed, certainly seemed satisfied with the end result (though clapping after every single number was frankly a bit much). If you're already a fan of the show, then it's fair to estimate that you won't be disappointed. If you're intrigued by the trailer, then chances are you won't be bored. Repo! isn't like anything else out there, for whatever that's worth, or anything I've ever seen; between us, though, I'm going to hold out for a midnight staple that's more my speed.