Repo Man, written and directed by Alex Cox, is quite possibly the first low-budget, sci-fi, punk rock comedy. It has some very funny moments and requires the viewer to pay attention or to watch repeatedly to catch the many jokes. It is a very creative film, evidenced immediately by the title sequence, which begins the story’s prologue as green-toned graphics of maps start in Los Alamos, NM and move to Los Angeles, CA where the film takes place after the opening sequence.
J. Frank Parnell, an odd man who wears a pair of sunglasses with one lens missing, is pulled over by a Highway Patrol officer. Parnell is acting suspicious, so the officer checks the trunk, which upon opening emits an intense bright light. The audience sees an x-ray of the officer’s skeleton followed by some sort of nuclear blast that vaporizes him. The trunk mysteriously closes and Parnell drives away, leaving behind a pair of smoldering boots.
The major plotline of the story deals with Otto, a young, suburban, punk rocker played by Emilio Estevez in one of his best roles, which makes it even more surprising that he didn’t take part in the DVD. Otto meets Bud who seeks help moving his wife’s car because she is pregnant and offers to pay him. As Otto obliges, the actual owner of the car races out to stop him. Otto speeds away around a corner, throwing the man into the street in a manner only seen in low budget films where actors aren’t regarded much better than props. You laugh yet feel sorry for the actor. You know he was hurt because even stunt men don’t fall like that.
Bud is a repo man. He offers Otto a job, but he turns it down because against his sensibilities. After finding out that his parents have given all their money to a televangelist preacher so bibles can be sent to El Salvador, he rethinks matters. Bud trains Otto, explaining his repo man code, which is very similar to Isaac Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics. A repo man’s life is always intense is a motto that Otto will learn; of course, snorting speed also makes life intense.
Miller the mechanic, who steals the film with his hysterical dialogue, like his revelations about John Wayne, speaks to Otto about a “lattice o’ coincidence that lays on top o’ everything.” Otto thinks Miller is just a burned-out hippie, but he should have been paying attention because the film is a series of coincidences. He begins a sexual relationship with Leila, who works for United Fruitcake Outlet, an organization that is in league with Parnell and wants to expose the government cover-up. A bounty of $20,000 is put on Parnell’s Chevy Malibu, which gets every repo man in town searching for it. Otto knows some people on a crime spree and they constantly affect the course of the story.
This collector’s edition has a number of bonus materials. A large group provides commentary and what’s nice is that they created were brought together to record the session rather than the usual splicing of individuals. They obviously had a wonderful experience making the film. Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas and actors Sy Richardson, (Lite), Zander Schloss (Kevin), and Del Zamora (Lagarto Rodrigues). They have many funny and revealing stories about the making of the film and working with each other. They also reveal inside jokes and running gags that might be missed.
However, they seemed more impressed with Repo Man than anyone I have ever met, which grated on the nerves a little. While I enjoyed the film, the commentators act as if it has become a part of the country’s zeitgeist, making it sound like Repo Man is as popular as Caddyshack or Star Wars. They claim that people are constantly quoting lines from the film, but I’ve never noticed that. I’m sure the actors have people who recognize them, but they act like it’s a daily occurrence.
While we run in different circles, and I will confess that I watch more films at home nowadays, I don’t see this film having as large a cult as they proclaim. Sure, there are the occasional screening at college campuses and midnight screenings, but it doesn’t play more often than anything else. They also claim Repo Man has had an impact on other films, such as the character of Kevin being the inspiration for Napoleon Dynamite. I had never heard this before, but it sounded suspect.
“Up Close with Harry Dean Stanton” shows him to be a more interesting character than any of his roles. His attitudes of acting, celebrity and life are refreshing and enlightening. The segment is so good that it’s a disappointment that it only lasts 20 minutes. “Repossessed” is a discussion between Cox and producers Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy about the making of the film. They cover some of the same ground as the commentary track, but provide a more in-depth look at the setting up of the deal to make and the film’s pre-production. “The Missing Scenes” segment is a very odd piece of work. Cox gets together with Sam Cohen, the inventor of the neutron bomb, and shows him deleted scenes and elicits his thoughts. He was the basis for the character of J. Frank Parnell, and it’s amusing to hear his thoughts on what he sees. J. Frank Parnell appears with Cox as well, but a different actor plays the role because the original actor had died.
Repo Man epitomizes the wonders of low-budget filmmaking. Film stock and camera rentals used to be one of the biggest expenses in a budget, so the crew was challenged to be creative and inventive. There was little access to study films and its techniques other than college courses and academic books. Because of these factors, audiences granted filmmakers leeway when stretching the limits of believability in a film’s execution. All of this had changed over the past couple of decades due to the paradigm shift brought on by VCRs and digital-filmmaking capabilities. Yet, Repo Man can still be enjoyed and appreciated for the hard work put into it and the laughter gotten out it.