Repo Man follows a down on his luck punk named Otto Maddox (a very young Emilio Estevez) who just happens to be having a horrible day. Not only does he quite his menial job as a stock boy at a grocery store after smacking one of his co-workers, but his girlfriend runs off with his best friend. On the way home, he runs into a man named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a pill popping oddball who makes his living as a repo man, taking back cars from private citizens who have fallen behind on their car payments.
Otto and Bud soon hit it off, and it doesn't take long before Bud has taken Otto under his wing, and seeing as his parents have given what was supposed to be his college fund to a strange TV evangelist Otto is okay with that. Bud shows him the 'repo code' and all that it entails and more or less serves as his door into the violent and harsh underground of the Los Angeles based repo man. Otto takes to his new job pretty quickly and he falls pretty fast into the strange world of clandestine federal agents, gun nut car owners, and fellow repo men.
Things start off strange as Otto immerses himself in his work, dodging bullets from those who are none too keen on seeing their car taken away and trying to get the job done before the complementation catches up with him. As odd as his career is, however, it gets a whole lot stranger when Otto catches word of an APB put out on the car of an insane scientist named Dr. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris). What Otto doesn't realize is that the trunk of the car contains something so deadly that anyone who opens it is pretty much immediately disintegrated by its contents. With a two hundred thousand dollar payday hanging over the vehicle, everyone and their brother is after it but Otto could care less about everyone else or about what's in the trunk – he just wants the money.
With a soundtrack featuring contributions by Iggy Pop, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks (who also appear in the film), Suicidal Tendencies and even the mighty beer guzzling FEAR, Repo Man, despite lackluster performance at the box office, easily found itself a solid cult audience, and with good reason. It's an eclectic and bizarre little movie that is seemingly tailor made for the punk rock crowd – no surprise, really, consider director Alex Cox's upbringing and roots and his later work with The Pogues and The Clash in the psuedo spaghetti western Straight To Hell or his adaptation of the life and death of a certain Sex Pistols bass player in Sid And Nancy. The result is a soundtrack that was very much ahead of its time despite using music from the era in which it was made. Cox knew before a lot of his contemporaries how well certain music could work in a movie, and the soundtrack here is a fantastic example of how he makes it happen.
Repo Man is one of those films that speaks to a certain generation, specifically the disenfranchised youth of the eighties and nineties. That's not to say that it can't be enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation for quirky comedy-sci fi-action hybrid movies because it can, but those who grew up listening to the music and understanding the fashion sense that Cox peppers his film with will likely be more apt to embrace the movie in that respect despite the fact that the movie doesn't specifically place itself in any one time period other than 'the future.'
More than just a collection of hip music and quirky dialogue and set pieces, Repo Man also benefits from some excellent characters and a pretty decent storyline as well. Otto and Bud do evolve through the film as do some of the supporting characters. It doesn't take long for Otto to become cognizant of the ills that society has cast upon his generation, which makes him a character that a lot of us can relate to and because of that the film makes some interesting observations on the state of America at the time and on the consumerism inherent in it (and still inherent in it today – on that level the movie will probably be timeless). In this, and most of his other movies, Cox wears his politics plainly on his sleeve.
Despite the fact that the movie is violent to a point and contains as much profanity as you'd expect from a film that focuses on a semi-fictional sub-culture made up of rough and tumble cretins, Repo Man the movie isn't completely pessimistic. Some of the characters are definitely 'good' and there are some genuinely touching moments contained in and among the dirty jokes and gunplay. The repo men even make up a family of sorts, as there are certain times where despite the competition that exists between them they will band together to stand up for certain beliefs.
Cox's film gels together very nicely when the end credits hit the screen. The story is wrapped up nicely, his points are made in a way that is simultaneously fun, original, and interesting, and the movie proves to be endlessly entertaining despite its obvious low budget roots and unlikely premise. Now an integral part of eighties counter culture the film holds up very well more than two decades later and while its flaws are obvious they also add to its considerable charm.
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this release is nice and sharp despite some moderate grain in some scenes. Color reproduction is strong, the reds look very good without any bleeding problems, and the black levels are rich and deep and don't pixelate or break up at all. There aren't any issues in terms of serious print damage to report aside from some specs here and there. There is some aliasing and mild edge enhancement present on the disc but you really do have to be looking for it in order for it to be a problem though it's not as hard to spot when looking at the grill of a car or the rooftops of the buildings seen in the movie. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural, fine detail looks good in both the foreground and the background of the image, and there's really not a whole lot worth complaining about here as the movie looks just fine, even if it isn't quite perfect.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track on this release is pretty strong, with the now classic soundtrack sounding very nice as it swells up in the rear channels in a few spots. Although the majority of the action comes from the front and center of the setup, the rears kick in when they need to and for the most part (during the more action intensive moments in the film, for the most part), everything sounds very good on this release. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion, and the levels are well balanced insuring that nothing overpowers the performers. Bass response is strong and lively, the high end sounds nice and crisp.
Universal has also supplied original Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track in English and subtitles in French and Spanish, as well as an English closed captioning option for the feature.
Accompanying the feature on the disc is a commentary track with director Alex Cox, producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss and Del Zamora. This is the same commentary track that graced the previous Anchor Bay DVD release, but it's a good one and Universal did the right thing by porting it over. This is a very enjoyable track that not only fills us in the ups and downs of making the movie but also provides a lot of good-natured humor and funny joking around and friendly ribbing between the participants. They seem to be having a good time remembering certain idiosyncrasies of the shoot and do a good job of filling us in on what happened to a few of the bit part players who pop up in the movie. Cox covers pre-production, distribution issues, and general trivia while a few of the performers talk about some of the oddities that came up while in front of the camera. All in all, it's a very enjoyable track, and if you're a Repo Man fan you're sure to get a kick out of it.
Also included on this release is a brand new documentary entitled Up Close And Personal With Harry Dean Stanton. This is a twenty-minute interview with the strange man himself, who talks about his life, his times, and his career. He covers how he takes instructions from directors or not, where he gets a lot of his inspiration from, and who his influences are. Harry's a weird dude, and this fantastic little interview with him give him a chance to tell it like it is in his own words. He covers what he looks for in a script, smokes a bit, and makes lots of strange faces.
Also new to this release is a featurette entitled Repossessed allows Alex Cox and two of the movie's producers, Jonathon Wacks and Peter McCarthy, to discuss a few of the shooting locations used in the movie and the pre-production process for the film in general. As they remember the locations, Sy Richardson, Dick Rude and Del Zamora show up to add to the fun. This one also clocks in at just over twenty-five minutes and it's a funny and very animated discussion that seems to be shot in someone's kitchen/dining room. They cover what it was like to shoot on location, how it took awhile to get the script sold, and the casting process. Cox explains his take on Emilio's performance and they cover some interesting behind the scenes trivia bits about the movie. Lots of clips from the film are used to illustrate various points made throughout this roundtable discussion and it makes for a pretty interesting watch. They also talk about the original ending created for the film and what happened with that idea.
A third brand new featurette on this release is The Missing Scenes, a featurette in which Alex Cox and Sam Cohen (the actual inventor of the neutron bomb!) take a look at the excised material that didn't make it into the final cut of the movie. The cover the original idea for the ending, and then Sam talks about the whole premise of the bomb itself, why it was invented and what it was to be used for. At just over twenty-five minutes this is an interesting collection of clips that didn't make the cut and interview segments with Cox and company that explain why and how that happened. This one is all over the place as the two men literally discuss the pros and cons of the neutron bomb in quite a bit of detail, going into the politics of it all and its effect on the world and then they watch deleted clips together and talk about them. It's a really strange segment but it does do a good job of getting the information across even if it is in a rather convoluted form. As far as the missing scenes themselves are concerned, there's not really much here that would have changed the film, most of them are quite brief and of little importance but there are a few interesting little character exposition moments and funny bits here and there that are definitely very cool to see.
The Repo Code Easter Egg, the cast and crew biographies, although a single trailer has been included.
If you own the previous Anchor Bay special edition of Repo Man you'll have to figure out if the additional seventy-five minutes of bonus features warrant the upgrade or not, though in this reviewers opinion, they're quite enjoyable and reasonably informative. However, if you haven't already got a copy for your home video library, this new special edition from Universal looks and sounds quite nice and the supplements do ad some value to the package. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.