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Repo Man (1984)
Director: Alex Cox

review by Tony Lee

"But I showed them. I had a lobotomy in the end." - a choice line from one of my favourite low-budget movies. Repo Man stars Emilio Estevez as white suburban punk, Otto, and Harry Dean Stanton as his mentor Bud, in the seedy, sometimes dangerous American underworld of car repossession. Otto's parents are glued-to-TV dope-heads. His new girlfriend, the paranoid Leila (Olivia Barash), thinks that 'men in black' are after her because she has a blurry photo of 'dead aliens'. Bud tries to teach blank-minded Otto his philosophy and conduct for repo work. The jackpot for LA repo men is a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu, which may (like that much sought after box in Kiss Me Deadly) contain nuclear material. This car does have 'something' locked away inside it ("Whatcha got in the trunk?" ... "Oh... You don't wanna look in there."), which can vaporise a traffic cop instantly, leaving just his smoking boots by the roadside.
   "Not just a job, it's an adventure." - Repo Man was an impressive début from writer and director, Alex Cox. It's bursting with wryly humorous action, and hairy-eyed monologues from a splendid array of winningly off-the-wall characters - especially the innocent Miller (Tracey Walter) who, ultimately, is the only one with any understanding of how an apparent "lattice of coincidence" holds togeather the abundant plot elements of subgenre comedy, buddy movie, detective thriller, sci-fi clichés, youth gang violence, crime drama, samurai code metaphors, and low-key apocalypse. Repo Man actually predates everything! Well, okay, it predates an entire cycle of films and TV shows about flying saucer cults (Alien Nation, Roswell), government conspiracies (Miracle Mile, Dark Skies), alien abductions (The X-Files, Communion), and ominously weird happenings in the US night.
   Above all, though, Repo Man is simply great fun! Laugh when naïve Otto gets a terrifying lesson in gunplay. Admire the cheesy but ingenious special effects of death rays and a flying car, and the incessantly quoted exchanges of witty dialogue ("The more you drive, the less intelligent you are."). There are satirical swipes both broad and subtle on political awareness, feminism, medical science, auto insurance, mass media, social depravation, metaphysics, car chases, urban myths, televangelism and - ah yes - of course, postmodern non-linear cinema. The cinematographer here, Robby Müller, has done acclaimed work for directors like Peter Bogdanovich and Wim Wenders, and lately Jim Jarmusch, and he brings a European's eye for colour and composition to Repo Man's remarkably stylish visuals. The soundtrack features a host of indie bands, and Iggy Pop performs an outstanding theme song, appropriating lines and references from the script for his lyrics.
previously published in VideoVista #20
Related item:
tZ  Alex Cox: King of Cult - filmmaker profile by Thomas Cropper
Repo Man
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