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A worldwide epidemic encourages a biotech company to launch an organ-financing program similar in nature to a standard car loan. The repossession clause is a killer, however.
It took two years for the Rocky Horror Picture Show to metamorphose into its current state as the original audience participation cult classic. Yeah, it had been in constant release since its premiere in 1975, but it wasn't until '77 that the craziness really took off. More than 30 years later, you will still get showered with rice, water, and toast at any RHPS screening worth its name.
The musical episode of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" gained cult status almost instantly, spawning a CD and books devoted to its script and lyrics.
Only time will tell if Repo! The Genetic Opera gains the kind of cult celebrity or the extreme level of participation of RHPS, or generate the level of financial return the Buffy CDs did. But it's taken almost no time for the participation to begin, and the show I attended had a vote taken before curtain to decide whether we would watch the film with our without ad lib soundtrack from the audience.
So what's the fuss about? Why does this film warrant the kind of enthusiasm that makes for multiple viewings, shadow-show against the screen, and next cult classic buzz?
The story is set in a decaying near-future dystopia where the Lotti family has a monopoly on the organ transplants needed to keep a failing humanity alive. When someone can't pay the installments on the loan required to pay for their expensive surgeries, the shadowy Repo Man comes with a scalpel and forcibly repossesses the organs in question.
Lotti the patriarch is played by Law & Order's Paul Sorvino, a trained opera singer as Dick Wolfe aficionados may know from his occasionally bursting into song on a case. He's arrogant, egotistical, and brutally disappointed in his three children. One son is a barely controlled rageoholic; the second steals faces from the dead and wears them over his own, and the third is played by Paris Hilton in a role that shows that maybe she has some talent after all.
The music itself is great, although the songs themselves are a little thin both lyrically and melodically. And the singers really do it justice, especially when they let loose in the big numbers.
The plot is twisted and excessively emotional -- not to mention really gory. And it'sactually pretty terrific fun, if you're willing to set aside your judgements and just let the insanity of the experience lead you.
The film's other major star is Anthony Stewart Head who plays Nathan Wallace, the bereaved widower of the sainted Marni, blackmailed into being Lotti's repo man because he believes he was responsible for his wife's death and Lotti covered it up. He's got a kick-ass voice and presence, as anyone familiar with his character Giles from Buffy will already know.
The young woman playing Shilo, his daughter, is a terrifically committed actress, with a brilliantly versatile voice and starkly glowing presence. It's easy to be emotionally involved with the saga, no matter how over-the-top and unlikely the circumstances.
The performer who really puts Repo! over the top toward cult status, though, is Sarah Brightman. Andrew Lloyd Webber's ex and the original star of The Phantom of the Opera, Brightman's voice has matured and her command of her extensive range has become butter-smooth. As Blind Mag, GeneCo's voice and star of its "Genetic Opera" series, she provides the lynchpin of the piece with her beautifully composed elegance.
Strangely, the cinematography is far better than you'd expect for what is at its heart a tarted-up musical slasher flick. The lighting is superb and so are the costumes and makeup, not to mention the special makeup effects. Watching Paris Hilton's face slowly slide off as she makes her operatic debut in front of a packed house is worth the price of admission itself.
The ultimate verdict? If you want to watch the film on its own merits, wait until you can get it on DVD. Release any kind of film snobbery you may have developed over the years, and just be prepared to laugh, groan, and smile.
But if you want to tap into what could just be the most interesting social experiment film has had to offer in years, check it out in a cinema, preferably for the late, late show. Or better yet, wait a year, and see what's evolved.