“Repo! The Genetic Opera” is easily one of the worst movies of the year, if not all time.
This goth garbage isn’t clever enough to be “Sweeney Todd” and it isn’t campy enough to be “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” — it’s not even worthwhile in a culty, midnight-movie way. In fact, it’s hard to tell whether “Repo!” is trying to be serious or funny, the tone from director Darren Lynn Bousman (“Saw II” through “Saw IV”) is so erratic.
One thing is for certain: This is one of those movies you have to watch through splayed fingers — not because it’s so pervasively violent and gory, which it is, but because it is simply too cringe-worthy to look at head-on.
If you’ve heard of “Repo!” at all, it’s probably because of the involvement of Paris Hilton, and for no other reason. Hilton actually has a supporting role here as a sort of naughty-vampira version of herself: a black-tressed heiress who is hooked on plastic surgery. And yes, she does sing, but no better or worse than anyone else.
The intentionally dissonant songs with their painfully clunky lyrics, which writers Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich first created for their “Repo!” stage musical, are set in a futuristic society where people’s organs mysteriously fail and transplants become not just necessary but fashionable. That’s where the biotech company GeneCo steps in, headed by CEO Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino, inexplicably slumming — he really is a trained opera singer). Zdunich, who also serves as our narrator, the Grave Robber, keeps popping up to explain the convoluted plot in malevolent tones.
But if you can’t afford to pay for your new heart or spleen, GeneCo sends the Repo Man (Anthony Stewart Head) to collect. And he sings while he’s doing it! The most ridiculous example of this is a scene in which he’s got a guy hanging upside down and he’s disemboweling him while simultaneously talking on the cell phone to his teenage daughter, reminding her to take her medicine.
Poor, sick Shilo (Alexa Vega from the “Spy Kids” movies) doesn’t realize her dad is the mean, old Repo Man, though — she just thinks he’s a mild-mannered, overly protective doctor named Nathan, still mourning the death of her mother. (Mom is the source of her illness, by the way: “I’m infected by your genetics,” Shilo sings in one of the film’s oddly peppy rock tunes. “Mother can you hear me? Thanks for the disease.” Every song is that literal.) The family’s twisted back story, which is tied in with Rotti’s, plays out in comic book-style panels, which do nothing to liven up the movie’s dreary look.
There’s also a strange sexual tension that exists between Hilton’s character, Amber Sweet, and her two freaky brothers as they blow the family’s money on cosmetic surgery and compete to see who will take over Daddy’s company. The frequent juxtaposition of sex and death in “Repo!” is neither arousing nor frightening, it just feels gratuitous.
Sarah Brightman, who became an international superstar as Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera” on the London stage, makes her feature film debut in a bizarre role as Blind Mag, a singer who is — you guessed it — blind, but can see thanks to eyeballs on loan from the evil GeneCo.
When she scratches out those eyes on stage — after delivering an aria while suspended from the ceiling, the one merciful moment of salvation in this cacophonous onslaught — it makes you realize she’s onto something. At least she didn’t have to watch the rest of the movie.