By Steve Warren Contributing Film Critic

Move over, ‘Rocky Horror.’ Make way for a new campy cult musical

NAUGHTY-VAMPIRA: Paris Hilton plays Amber Sweet, a raven-haired heiress addicted to plastic surgery.

It takes guts to make a movie like "Repo! The Genetic Opera" — and hearts, brains, kidneys and other internal organs.

"Repo!" screams "cult movie!" which means not everyone will like it.

The screenplay by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich unfolds like it was based on "The Phantom of the Opera" or something by Poe. But it was actually based on their stage musical.

Set in "the not-too-distant future," the story has the family dynamics of "Dirty Sexy Money," with Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), the old patriarch of "the world’s most powerful family," seeking a successor among his worthless offspring and deciding he’ll have to go outside to find someone to run the company he’s built.

That company, GeneCo trades in replacement body parts and Zydrate, "an expensive and addictive painkiller" used in transplant surgery. A popular street version of the drug is extracted from corpses, providing employment for Grave Robber (Zdunich).

A visual plus, and a cost-saving device, is the use of a graphic novel. Most of these vignettes take place 17 years ago, when Rotti and one of his employees, Nathan Wallace (Anthony Stewart Head), were rivals for the love of Marni. Nathan won her and thought he’d come up with a cure for her terminal blood disease.

Due to the vengeful Rotti’s machinations, Nathan had to choose between saving the life of his wife or their unborn daughter, now the teenage Shilo (Alexa Vega).

Rotti took advantage of Nathan’s guilty feelings to make him his Repo Man, reclaiming body parts from customers who fall behind in their payments. Although Nathan’s a doctor, he doesn’t use approved surgical techniques in removing the merchandise.

Marni’s best friend was the woman who’s still known as Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman), even though Rotti restored her sight with a transplanted pair of glowing blue eyes and made her "the voice of GeneCo." As their singsperson, she performs for the company in "The Genetic Opera."

Some lesbian writhing in the opera chorus is the film’s only specifically gay element.

The Largo children are Luigi (Bill Moseley), Pavi (Ogre of Skinny Puppy) and Amber (Paris Hilton), who doesn’t use the family name, and is GeneCo’s best customer, forever altering her appearance.

The brothers illustrate how the family does business when they sing, "Take my cock and mark it up."

Sheltered Shilo becomes a pawn in Rotti’s game, leading to a final, protracted climax involving the two of them and Nathan. The finale fairly fizzles but the film pops back to life for a brief epilogue that leaves things open for a sequel.

Visually "Repo!" mixes the graphic look of "Sin City" with a neo-Victorian
atmosphere in super-saturated color. Some of the violence has a "Sweeney Todd" feel, especially since it’s set to music. The musical influences — mostly rock — are varied, but one occasionally detects a bit of Andrew Lloyd Webber sneaking in.

The performers do their own singing, and if you’re not familiar with their vocal work it’s because there are so few musical films. Sorvino is a trained opera singer, "Spy Kid" Vega has done "Hairspray" on Broadway, and Hilton — well, she really is hot here. Head, best known for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on TV, was in "Sweeney Todd." Brightman proves again she can sing anything and Zdunich knows how to write for his own "how low can you go?" voice.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 5, 2008.


Grade: B
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Paul Sorvino, Alexa Vega Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton
Opens Friday, Dec. 5 at Angelika-Dallas • 1 hr. 38 min. • R


That auscpicious day is arriving. D Mag blog Dallas Dirt says they have George and Laura’s new address:  10141 Daria Pl., a 4,684-square-foot ranch house located in a Preston Hollow cul-de-sac just north of Walnut Hill Lane and west of Central Expressway. The Dallas Morning News reports that an accountant, who has assisted the president for years, recently purchased the $2 million home as a trustee.

 — D.A.K.

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