USA | 1984 | Directed by Alex Cox
Logline: An indignant teenage punk-rocker is recruited by a car repossession agent and becomes embroiled in the chaotic pursuit for a car containing deadly cosmic material.
Made on the smell of an oily rag and sporting some of the cheesiest special effects this side of Edge City Repo Man still manages to rise above its limitations and resonates like the growling weather-beaten Chevy Malibu that is the key non-speaking character of the movie. Of course, the movie actually belongs to the lost streets of Los Angeles, but is snatched in the last moments by something from beyond terra firma.
Emilio Estevez plays new wave punker Otto with a careless charisma, almost indifferent to the events that surround him and steer him toward his lofty destiny alongside mechanic Miller (Tracey Walter), who knows oh so much more than his nut-and-bolt-short-of-a-full-engine looks suggest. Harry Dean Stanton is perfect as the cigarette-chewing, speed-snorting repo man whom takes young turk Otto under his reeky wing.
Repo Man enjoyed the drive-in midnight circuit in America, but become the revolutionary anti-hero after years of being manhandled in VCR machines. There’s something about it that lingers, like the stain of grease. It’s overtly stylised and there’s plenty of dodgy acting from the supporting players, some of which works in a wacky kind of way; like Olivia Borash as ingénue Leila. In fact, so stylised is the movie that the characters eat and drink from cans labeled simply “Food” and “Beer”.
This City of Angels is bordering on post-apocalyptic, and is awash with apathy and contempt; one minute Otto is lying with his girlfriend Debbi (Jennifer Balgobin) on a bed, the next minute he returns with a beer and she’s making out with opportunist punk Duke (Dick Rude). In a more explicit deleted alternate take Otto returns and punk Archie (Miguel Sandoval) has his head between her thighs. Later sexy Debbi shaves her head into a Mohawk (channeling Annabella Lwin via Grace Jones) to join Duke and Archie in an armed robbery spree.
Alex Cox is making sly, subversive statements about consumerism and cosmic consciousness, but really the movie is a more a satirical slap in the face for complacent idealists. If you smoke too much pot you’ll end up glued to the idiot box gathering cobwebs, if you don’t seize the moment you’re liable to end up seized by conspiracy. Watch out for secret agent shenanigans! Watch out for Dioretix - they’ll change your life! Methinks Cox supped quite a bit of Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid back in the day.
The soundtrack is littered with legendary American punk rock bands whose noisy discords fill the movie’s atmosphere, including The Plugz (who provide all the incidental music as well), The Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies, and, most notably, Burning Sensations’ cover of Pablo Picasso - “… was never called an asshole!” - whilst proto punk rocker Iggy Pop provides the movie’s theme song.
Cox wrote a sequel, Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday, in the early 90s, but it was never made, eventually he couldn’t help himself and delivered Repo Chick (2009), shot entirely on a green-screen stage, and apparently pretty damn awful. So grab yourself a “Beer”, a slice of “Pizza”, hell blaze a “Reefer” - just so you can really feel the danger - and indulge in some of the more zany moments of 80s indie cinema.