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Savant Review:

Repo Man
Anchor Bay
1984 / Color / 1:78 / Dolby Digital, Dolby Surround
Starring Emilio Estevez, Harry Dean Stanton, Olivia Barash, Tracey Walter, Sy Richardson, Jennifer Ralgobin, Richard Foronjy, Del Zamora, Fox Harris, Vonetta McGee
Cinematography Robby Muller
Art Directors J. Rae Fox, Lynda Burbank
Film Editor Dennis Dolan
Original Music Steve Hufsteter, Tito Larriva, Los Plugz, Iggy Pop
Exec Produced by Michael Nesmith
Produced by Peter McCarthy, Gerald T. Olson, Johnathan Wacks
Written and Directed by Alex Cox

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

EXTRA BELOW: a note from 'Darryn', with some amusing Repo Man Information

Repo Man put writer-director Alex Cox on the map as a major independent talent long before the industry acknowledged that there even was an independent American cinema. Even more of a loner than John Sayles, Cox chose to go his own cinematic way, frustrating Hollywood's attempts to draw him into their game. Even Jon Davison, who much desired Cox to direct RoboCop 2, found the director unwilling to tackle such a mainstream assignment. To date Cox is most noted for the punk - influenced Repo Man, his second feature, and Sid and Nancy, about punk superstars. Walker, a bizarre meditation on the political and business exploitation of Central America, pretty much sums up Cox's anti-Reagan era views. He's made several films in Mexico, including El Patrullero, which Savant thought was excellent.

Repo Man's basic story may sound derivative on paper, but in action the movie is wholly original.


Otto Maddox is a disaffected punk whose pierced hooligan friends live an edgy life of dissipation interrupted by frequent episodes of armed robbery. "Let's go get sushi and not pay!", is a typical irate remark. However, Otto falls in with a different crowd, quasi-vandals who for a living repossess cars whose owners haven't kept up the payments. These junkyard layabouts and furtive daredevils are practically outlaws themselves. The citizens whose cars they rip off often greet them with blazing guns, in a Los Angeles that appears to be completely lawless. Otto learns the 'repo code' from the amphetamine-altered Bud (a wonderful Harry Dean Stanton), but being a repo man mainly seems to be a series of collisions with other LA crazies: battered convenience store clerks, competitor gangs of repo men, and sinister government agents. All prowl the night undisturbed by the police.

The proceedings get even more strange, when some of these agents put out a repo warrant on a glowing sedan driven by insane nuclear scientist J. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris). Soon Otto is at center stage in a crazy game of 'who has the car?' that exposes strange enemies and creates even stranger allies.

Repo Man is a satire on society that resists the urge to become nihilistic. Coarse and vulgar as only a movie about punks can be, it's actually very sweet in its own way. Cox's cast is a gallery of affectionately rendered freaks. The universal alienation of the characters is not shared by the writing and direction, which grants all an equal blessing of ignorance and allows them to come togther in refreshingly positive ways. For instance, the 'evil' conspiracy of intelligence agencies is not a cue for moral outrage. The film refuses to assign such simple labels, and prefers to watch in amusement as punks, federal agents, and repo men clash by night.

Repo Man is a farce where chance and coincidence are as important as character. The throwaway bits are never just throwaways, as when a frustrated repossessor unknowingly tosses an unopened paper parcel full of money out the window of his moving car. Life is full of opportunities that these self-absorbed schemers never even see. When the feds intervene, the repo code creates an alliance with the kill-crazy Rodriquez brothers. The brain-fried wacko Miller (Tracey Walter, familiar from Jonathan Demme movies) becomes a key participant in the finale.

The acting is uniformly good, with Harry Dean Stanton the standout. One of the participants on the commentary describes Stanton's unique look by saying he's the screen's perfect "Western-inflected cadaver."

Alex Cox developed the idea for Repo Man by actually helping a friend repossess cars. Some of the quirky incidents, he claims, actually happened. (See Alex Cox's own web page.) The christmas tree deodorizers were a real phenomenon, a repo talisman, and not something invented for the film. The repo culture depicted is both a weird world unto itself, and a great way to observe our society from a radical and twisted point of view.

One very laudable aspect of Cox's filmmaking is his originality. In 1984, few reviewers were aware of Kiss Me Deadly (Daily Variety's Klad was) and its connection to the secret in the car trunk, or its inspiration for the reverse-scroll of the end credits. But the atomic secret of Deadly is perfect for Repo Man's post-modern landscape. Cox throws all kinds of bizarre elements (Televangelists, plain-wrap products) into his punk stew without getting lost in the details. Independent filmmaking with supportive collaborators, is perhaps conducive to coherent creativity. The visually clean and unmannered Repo Man is a collage of staccato car chases, hilarious belligerent dialogues, and deadpan paranoid science fiction. It set a style in off-the-wall satirical fantasy that was much imitated and never bettered.

Anchor Bay's DVD of Repo Man is a superior package. The 16:9 - enhanced transfer is clean and crisp, and the 5.1 audio keeps the well-mixed punk music, including the driving Iggy Pop title tune, jumping. The popular soundtrack apparently kept the feature alive during its spotty theatrical release. Two trailers show how Univeral marketed the movie. The highlight among the extras is an entertaining commentary track, in which Cox, producer Mike Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss and Del Zamora convene very amiably for a thorough, fact-filled insider's view of the filming of the movie. Savant laughed out loud with them at regular intervals.

Repo Man is also available in a deluxe set, with a metal-tin package cleverly designed to mimic a personalized license plate. The design reportedly beat out the major studios in an industry competition. Having Otto in a Can sounds cool, but it's not necessary to enjoy this freaky, influential, and sometimes indescribable zonkfest.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Repo Man rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Supplements: trailers, bios, Commentary track with the director and five cast and crew
Packaging: Alpha case
Reviewed: September 26, 2000

EXTRA: a note from 'Darryn', with some amusing Repo Man Information:

Just an addition to your Repo man review.

The first time I saw it was a late night public TV screening - which was obviously the tv cut of the movie. Alex Cox references this on his website as something he himself supervised.

I have to say - the tv cut has one SURREAL dialogue track. The profanity has been replaced/dubbed (by the actors) to use "flip you", "you melon farmer" and of course "flip you, you melon farmer". Literally every tenth word in this cut is "flip".

Seeing this already off-kilter movie late one friday night with this dub was truly mind-warping. I walked around for weeks afterwards with the words "melon farmer" bouncing around my head.

It's a pity this alternate film soundtrack isn't on the dvd, it is an experience. :) - Darryn

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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