Wednesday 13 May 2020

Movie Review: Repo Man (1984)

A laidback and subversive science fiction thriller comedy, Repo Man is all fun and games, including when people die.

In Los Angeles, anti-authoritarian youth Otto Maddox (Emilio Estevez) quits his menial supermarket job, and is then recruited by Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) to become a car repossession agent, stealing vehicles from customers who have fallen behind on payments. Meanwhile, a mysteriously sweaty man (Fox Harris) is driving a 1964 Chevy Malibu with dangerous alien-related cargo in the trunk, attracting the attention of government Agent Rogersz (Susan Barnes) and UFO conspiracy theorist Leila (Olivia Barash).

Under Bud's guidance Otto enjoys life as a repo man, and gets to know Bud's associates including Marlene (Vonetta McGee) and the alien-obsessed Miller (Tracey Walter). He also tangles with local business rivals the Rodriguez brothers. When a $20,000 reward is offered for the retrieval of the Malibu, Otto finds himself in the middle of a wild and high-stakes chase.

An often bizarre mix of alien conspiracy adventure, imaginative science fiction and anti-establishment punk thriller with attitude to spare, Repo Man stands alone. An independent production written and directed by Alex Cox, the film creates its own rules, including a fierce dedication to burn down every product placement opportunity and a commitment to snarl in the face of preconceptions about where the narrative is supposed to go.

While patchy in parts, sometimes disjointed and almost entirely devoid of context, Repo Man is stubbornly loyal to its version of nihilism hiding around the next corner. And so Cox, through the character of Bud, creates a code for career repo men, and of course it's a behavior standard that none of Bud's associates or rivals seem to remotely care for. Instead Otto is dropped into a wild world where theft is an actual job, and discovers a perfect fit for a punk without a cause, give or take a few chases, shootings, and radiation-induced instant incinerations.

And it's no surprise that as the insane worlds of aliens-in-the-trunk and repo men collide, the seemingly close-to-mad Miller, who spends his days burning other people's personal belongings retrieved from repossessed vehicles, slowly emerges as the most rational character. He is in tune with the possibilities of past, future and present actually being one, and as all others lose their minds, Miller is already there.

With Emilio Estevez willing to stand his ground against all comers and Harry Dean Stanton chasing the illusion of dignity in his suited attire, Cox steers Repo Man to a suitably beyond-wacky conclusion, the underbelly of a scrappy Los Angeles a perfect venue for the next automotive generation.

All careers enjoy highs and lows, but nothing compares to the out-of-this-world intensity of repossessing cars in a car-obsessed town.

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