The protagonists of “Repentance” both deal in karma. Self-help author Tommy Carter (Anthony Mackie) lectures about it; brooding divorced father Angel Sanchez (Forest Whitaker) administers it. But neither one is enough of a sage to turn this routine thriller into an edifying experience.
The movie introduces Tommy at a hometown appearance to publicize his book, “Don’t Look Back.” He lives comfortably in New Orleans with his adoring yoga-teacher wife, Maggie (Sanaa Lathan), and is making enough money as a writer that he’s given up his sideline as a life coach.
Tommy has two problems, although at first he knows about only one of them: Ben (Mike Epps), his ex-con older brother who’s in debt to the kind of people who don’t call a lawyer when they want to collect. The siblings have little in common, but are connected by dark secrets from their past.
To help raise money for Ben, Tommy reaches out to his other problem: Angel, who’s suffering from a wicked mix of psychological and supernatural ailments. He’s haunted by his late mother, whose ghost appears to Angel as if he were that kid from “The Sixth Sense.”
For $300 a hour, Tommy agrees to counsel Angel, using a combination of Buddhism, pop psychology and Dale Carnegie-like positivity. But Angel remains quite negative. Soon, he has Tommy trussed up in a basement bomb shelter. He begins to question his captive, ducking out occasionally to look after his young daughter upstairs.
The way Angel flips the script on Tommy, confronting the hog-tied therapist with his own glib banalities, might be funny — if only the sessions didn’t also involve physical torture. Tommy is cut, pierced and beaten, and the punishment seems designed mostly to keep the attention of jaded moviegoers, not to elicit the confession Angel so desperately wants to hear.
Whitaker, one of the film’s producers, had director Philippe Caland remake “Tripping Tommy” (a.k.a. “The Guru and the Gypsy”), Caland’s own movie that’s been awaiting release for several years. For “Repentance,” Shintaro Shimosawa rewrote Caland’s original screenplay. The new script may or may not be an improvement, but it’s not very good. Mackie and Whitaker’s performances outclass the material. Lathan and Epps probably would too, if they were given anything significant to do.
When the mayhem is over — or almost over — one character announces that “we’re spiritually dead.” Yet the movie hardly justifies such grandiose despair. While it sheds a lot of blood, spiritually “Repentance” is more like a paper cut.
R. At area theaters. Contains violence, including torture, and strong language. 95 minutes.