Arguably the defining cult film of the Reagan era, the feature debut of Alex Cox is a genre-busting mash-up of atomic-age science fiction, post-punk anarchism, and conspiracy paranoia, all shot through with heavy doses of deadpan humour and offbeat philosophy.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film, Repo Man introduces us to Otto (Emilio Estevez), an punk loser living in L.A. with his parents, spending his days stacking shelves and his nights with his criminal friends at various punk parties and clubs. When he’s at his lowest he’s randomly approached and coaxed into ‘chauffeuring’ a car for Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). It turns out Bud is actually a ‘repo man’, one of a particularly despised group whose job it is to repossess cars from people behind on their payments. After unwittingly doing one of these jobs for Bud, Otto is begrudgingly brought onto the repo men team, and he quickly grows to love his new role. Meanwhile though, a mysterious car is roaming Los Angeles with a deadly and much sought after cargo in it’s boot (or trunk to any yanks out there). A wide variety of weird and wonderful groups join the chase as the repo men themselves learn of it’s value.
It’s ridiculous stuff for sure, especially towards the last third where the film treads a fine line between screwball comedy and surreal student film. Indeed on first viewing (mine included) it can seem like a bit of a mess. There is a lot going on, not just in terms of plot, but in terms of ideas. Writer/director Alex Cox throws all sorts at us in terms of satire and hints of diatribe. The film is full of stabs at consumerism in particular with it’s blank-labelled products (although in a featurette Cox claims this was for logistical reasons), use of advertising jingles and digs at money-grabbing religious movements. There is so much bitterness towards society in general too with Bud’s hatred for “ordinary fucking people”. It can seem a little all over the place as it tries to hit all of these targets at once, but manages to get away with it.
I think what makes it work is largely down to the fact that as well as being a great cult movie, it’s probably the greatest example of a ‘punk movie’. All the anger levelled at the world mixed with the ‘who gives a shit’ attitude works so well alongside its awesome hardcore punk soundtrack and clear punk aesthetic. It’s a finger up to everyone and has an energy and a vibrancy that transcends its rough-around-the-edges presentation (not including the cinematography which is pretty impressive). That description, to me, is punk through and through. Strangely though, the film’s most obviously ‘punk’ characters, Otto’s old friends, come across as some of the dumbest characters in the film (but occasionally the most entertaining), as they haphazardly wreak havoc across the city.
What also helps the film retain its cult classic status and is one of the reasons it’s better appreciated on repeated viewings, is that it is so immensely quotable. I was writing down quotes as often as notes on the film as I watched. It’s full of classic lines like “John Wayne was a fag” and “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees” as well as a personal favourite, “Let’s do some crimes”, “Yeah, let’s go get sushi. And not pay!” When great lines like this are thrown out by some incredible character actors including the criminally under-appreciated Harry Dean Stanton, it’s a pure joy to watch. Emilio Estevez impresses too in his first starring role, exuding a youthful innocence alongside his rebellious badass behaviour.
Picture Quality: 4/5
Repo Man actually looks fantastic. Detail is wonderful throughout most of the movie. It didn’t have a big budget and it was made 28 years ago, so give it a break. The movie is presented in it’s original aspect ratio from the theatrical release. A light layer of grain is visable throughout the movie, but it’s never heavy enough to distract the viewer and gives a nice film-like appearence to it. The image is much brighter than before, colour has been corrected to be more natural. Night time scenes look softer, but are still pleasing. I didn’t spot any edge enhancement or artificial enhacement of any kind. No DNR has been applied. This is by far the best Repo Man has ever looked.
Audio Quality: 4/5
The Audio doesn’t exactaly test the strengths of your speakers but everything sounds very impressive considering the age of it. The iconic soundtrack includes Iggy Pop, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and others, and it sounds pretty incredible.
Extra’s: 5/5-Introduction (11 minutes)
A terrific introduction to Repo Man by director Alex Cox, who quickly mentions some of the issues he and his crew had to overcome before and after the film was completed. His comments about Universal Studios and their treatment of the film are particularly interesting. The introduction was filmed in Boulder, Colorado in 2011 exclusively for The Masters of Cinema Series
-TV Version (97 minutes)
This is the first time the TV Version of Repo Man has been released on home media, and I can’t even tell you how welcome it is. Alex Cox and Dick Rude’s re-edit of Repo Man for American network television. It features alternate scenes, material deleted from the theatrical version, and overdubs of some unfriendly for family viewing dialog. Eureka Entertainment’s source was a Digibeta created from the original analog master. Presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio as it was originally shown on television. The quality of this version is incredibly inferior to that of the theatrical version on this disc, but thats to be expected. Still, this version is really enjoyable and contains some hilarious and cheesy dialogue not featured in the theatrical cut.
-Reposessed (26 minutes)
In this video piece, recorded in 2005, director Alex Cox, producers Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks, actors Del Zamora, Sy Richardson, and Dick Rude discuss Repo Man and its production history.
-The Missing Scenes (26 minutes)
In this we have director Alex Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, and neutron bomb inventor Sam Cohen discuss various deleted scenes from the film. This was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had watching deleted scenes and it plays out kind of weird. Each scene is shown and then there is a discussion amongst them. They’re shown in the privacy of a small home so this isn’t anything big, with a round table etc. Alex Cox, wearing his bandana crouches down beside Sam Cohen who has his feet rested up on the table and they get right into it. The discussions between them all are fantastic. Neutron bomb inventor Sam Cohen is a big fan of the movie and has no problem giving Cox a hard time when one of the scenes sucks.
-Henry Zen Stanton (22 minutes)
In it, the legendary Harry Dean Stanton discusses his life philosophy and work.
A 44-page illustrated booklet specially created by director Alex Cox, entitled The Repo Code and incorporating all manner of Repo ephemera.
If you’re a fan of outlandish cult comedies or the 70′s/80′s punk scene you’ve probably seen this film already, but if not you must rectify this right now. For those of you outside of those categories there is still a lot to love, but it might take a couple of viewings to sink in. There is no better way to own this movie than with the Masters of Cinema blu-ray which is limited edition. Not terribly limited, but it will go out of print. I recommend getting in there before time runs out.