Repo Man

Year 1984

Harry Dean Stanton   as  Bud  
Emilio Estevez as Otto Maddox
Fox Harris as J. Frank Parnell  
Tracey Walter as Miller
Director - Alex Cox
Screenwriter - Alex Cox
Producers - Peter McCarthy
    Jonathan Wacks

Where to put Repo Man? Is it good? Yes. Great? Not consistently. Feel the need to watch it periodically? Not really. Oh, well, I guess it's relegated to Torn and Frayed.

I'm not taking the full blame for this though. The movie itself doesn't know what it wants to be or what point it wants to make. I'd say it was a disjointed mess if it weren't for the attention to detail that weaves its threads throughout the film.

After watching the movie and the special features, like the director's reunion with the producers, it appears as though the movie was a sketch of an idea that someone wanted to film. Dialogue was filled in later on a should-we-say-something-at-this-point basis.

What is Repo Man about? Uh, let me describe its facets and let you figure it out. The title indicates that the movie is about a man who takes back automobiles when their owners have failed to keep up on their payments. A good portion of the film is devoted to this. The rest of the movie consists of various attempts to make social points about neutron bombs, poverty, and televangelists. The operative word in that last sentence is "attempts". Another word to describe the effort to effect social commentary is "fails".

The writer/director or somebody did field research with repossession men and included every anecdote from his hours, days, week(?) in the field. To link it all together, Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), I think, is the repossession man in the title.

To compensate for his vocation, this lowly, barely getting by Bud has chosen to elevate his profession to grandeur. He's got a "Repo Man's Code" and believes that, "The life of a repo man is intense!" To further justify his profession, he hates people on welfare. That these are frequently the same people who provide him with his source of income when they default on their car payments is deliberate irony.

Everybody needs to feel superior to someone, I guess.

This "intense" life involves taking cars, partying with aging silicon wives, and avenging wrongs. The repo men delude themselves into thinking that they live only by their own set of superior societal rules. Well, until they get sued for harassment in which case the fraternity fragments to sniping and blame casting. The low lifes start building isolated shelters at the bottom of their pond at this point.

So, you've got your class struggle going on. The rich are jerks, the middle class are liars, the low lifes are selfish, and the impoverished are helpless victims. No one in this movie is remotely likable.

You'd think that Bud, the repo man, would be the primary character. You'd be wrong. That honor falls to Otto (Emilio Estevez). The movie follows his life from a fired stock boy to a repo man trainee. Otto's a punk slacker. Based on his home life, where mom and dad watch a televangelist to whom they give all of their extra cash, he's doing well to do nothing.

His friends are bad-boy-wanna-bes. His best friend is a rebel without a clue who steals Otto's girl and blames society for his lifestyle. Otto, in a rare moment of clarity, calls BS to this feeble attempt to pass the blame. Nice move, Otto. It's the little moments like that one that make him tolerable.

Then there're the Rodriguez Brothers. They're the main competitors to The Repo Man's fraternity of fellow repo men. I'm not sure how or why the adversity started, but the meetings between the two factions are always entertaining. These brothers are linked to some sort of societal overthrow organization. It's mentioned once or twice but then forgotten. It gives them a reason, I suppose, for being in the film at all.

In one scene, because his mother is in the room, one of the brothers talks about not doing drugs, just before toking on a joint. Intended to be more hypocrisy on display, it comes off as funny.

Then there's J. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris) who plays the man who invented the Neutron Bomb and who's driving around the streets of Los Angeles with a trunk full of dead space aliens. As the bodies decay, radiation starts heating things up and then transmogrifying them. During this time, the Parnell character steals some scenes. My favorite is his confession where he rationalizes his career choice by embracing some questionable procedures like chest x-rays and lobotomies. His whole role is a great example of over-the-top acting that works.

There's the mandatory government agent who's trying to retrieve the aliens for her agency and using the unsuspecting repo men as tools to accomplish her work. She's a blond with nice legs and a metal hand that drives Otto's punk friends to sexual fantasy adoration.

There's Otto's rebound love interest who is a would-be exposť reporter working for a weirdness museum but later recruited by the blonde with the metal hand to work for the government. At one point she's so upset with Otto that she tells him, "I'm glad I tortured you!" So, don't feel too badly for her when Otto treats her like an object.

Then, there's Miller who is the only steady one in the movie. There's no deceit with Miller. He says what he thinks is true. "John Wayne was a fag," is one of his revelations.

Another is his theory about how everything is connected through a lattice of events. "Plate of shrimp," he tells Otto. "Say that I say 'plate of shrimp'. Someone will say 'plate' or 'shrimp' or 'plate of shrimp'."

Hrm. Later on in the movie, in the background, there's a sign for a $2.95 lunch special. It's a plate of shrimp.

And that's why I like this movie. For the repo man and Parnell and Miller and all of the crazy coincidences that are deliberately planned in a detailed fashion. Otto and the repo man shop at convenience stores at the same time his old punk friends are robbing them.

Another touch is that nearly all of the products are generically labeled. Not just with relatively descriptive names like "Toasted Rice Cereal", but with even more basic, campy identifiers. "Let's get a drink," the repo man suggests. At the convenience store, they buy a six-pack of white cans labeled "drink" (all lower case). At home, Otto eats from a can marked "Food" (first letter is capitalized).

Before the movie ends, even a televangelist is in on the hunt for the car with the truckload of decomposing aliens. Don't blink or you'll miss a visual joke. Don't lose the sound or you'll miss a smart comment. The fun is in the details.

I'd say that the charm of this movie is that it is unintentionally funny. Someone thought they were making a social statement, but they chose to do it with bad special effects, a disjointed plot, unbelievable characters, and bad improvised dialogue.

Chick flick potential? You're kidding, right? There's no love story, although there's a sex for the sake of sex subplot or two, and no one except for the greasy scientist and the scaly Miller are even likable.

Will you like it? Do you like Iggy Pop? He does the title song and sets the mood for the entire film. If you like that, you'll have a good time with this one.

The "Collector's Edition" has some interviews.

Back to the "Torn and Frayed " list or the main movie list.