Directed by Alex Cox
Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez
(Longford, Melbourne/Dendy, Sydney)
Repo Man is a film that crashes head-on into the American Dream. Following the, err, 'antics' of a pair of demented repossession agents (Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez), Repo Man is a jaunt around the backstreets of LA, a glimpse of the lowlife there, where the only escape route, it seems, the only solution, is a mystical riddle, a 1964 Chevy Malibu with some sort of powerful force sequestered in the trunk.
Of course, all this could only be played for wayward laughs, and Repo Man gains much of its impact for an unsparing, almost wicked sense of humor.
The film is the feature debut of director Alex Cox, a 29-year-old Englishman who migrated to California in 1977.
Like Blood Simple and Stranger Than Paradise, Repo Man is a low-budget, independent production which has swiped some of its bigger siblings' action, if not some of their thunder. Beyond cult status, Repo Man is not only commercially but also critically a solid success. (We will doubtless be seeing more of Alex Cox then.)
Repo Man revels in the trash-aestheticism of cult moviedom; Cox uses a virtual grab-bag of cinematic conventions and subversions thereof to great effect. There are elements of it all in Repo Man – thriller, with and without spies, sci-fi, social comment, Spielbergia, paranoia, youth, slapstick, the Chase, the odyssey – or maybe it’s just LA itself, like some mutant cousin of the recent Richard Gere Breathless – but Cox ties all these threads together with his great zest and a michieviousness of means.
The cinematography of Robby Mueller, who usually works for Wim Wenders (he shot Paris, Texas), doesn't hurt either: His camera prowls LA with the sureufootedness of a native but the wide-eyes of a visitor, missing none of the tawdriness, and creating a visual rhythm to match the pace of Cox's tight script. The soundtrack too - which features
Iggy Pop, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, among others – is a great adjunct to the action.
Emilio Estevez needed a role like this, as Otto, the young ex-punk, to cement his Brat Pack status, and in the film he excercises the right balance between control and methodology. Harry Dean Stanton doesn't need any role to confirm his reputation, and as the
irresolutely shabby Bud he excels once again.
Bud and Otto meet up one day when Bud cons Otto into helping him reclaim an unpaid-up car. This is what these Repo Men do. But that's not where the film began: We came in earlier on the highway, to see a cop booking a car reduced to a smouldering pair of boots and nothing else - huh?!
Otto leaves his punk pals behind to team-up with Bud. find is a.
man committed to his work ~ to him, people who don’t keep up their
payments are simply "assholes" - and he derives vicarious thrills from it, which we share. He snorts speed, and even has a Repo Man Code: "The ordinary person avoids tense situations, Repo Men spends his life getting into tense situations."
There is next to no morality or justice - not to mention plain, old-fashioned common sense - in the scenario Repo Man presents, and this is its cruel satire. Otto condemns one of his former cronies, who with his gang went around knocking over liquor stores, as a "no-good
punk," but as a Repo Man, robbing from the poor, he's hardly any better himself. This is a hostile environment in a consumer society where the Options are so narrow that the goods available in stores are plain-wrapped and simply labelled 'Food', or 'Beer'. The only characters attempting faith or hone are zonked~out~of~touch old
hippies, like Otto’s parents (who sit around smoking dope and watching
TV’evangilist Reverend Larry) and the repo,yard's superanuated space~
The eopwzapping car soon enough shows up, with its lethal cargo
in the trunk and and $20,000 on its head. Naturally, everyone’s after
it ~ the repo men, the punks, the Rodriguez Brothers (Bud's arch
enemies), Ottois carnal desire Leila (who werks for the United Fruit-
cake Company, a front for UFOfiXfiEHXXKK spetting) and the allwAryian
Half this gaggle of goons is blown-away in its pursuit of Alex
Cox's modern~day White Whale, and in the end it's Otto and Miller who
ride it skywards.
Apparently, Alex Cox originally intended to end the film with
LA naked out of existence (by the Malibu somehow), by way of commenting
that all these unsubstantiated Spiritual saviours so pOpular in
America at present age nothing but red herrings, but he decided
against it because it was too ‘severe'. he that as it may, the end
of the film as it is now, even though it might only be extending
the absurdities that are rampant throughout, is, however, as
unsatisfyingly ambiguous XKXXKK in the face of the hard~hitting
approach of the rest of the film. But then it's also possible to 4
KKK regard the fantasm as a superfluous subtext, and.concentrate en
sxxxxxnxxgxxxxx what's left, which stands in its own right as an
incisive portrait of the underbeély of America, snide and sarcastic
and ultimately rather distressing.