Otto (Emilio Estevez) is an 18-year-old LA kid with few aspirations beyond listening to hardcore punk, getting laid and trying to avoid work. On the day he meets smooth-talking Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) he discovers that there’s good money to made in the car repossession business, and starts working for peculiar bunch of repo men who operate out of a scrap metal yard and occupy the shady middleground between debt collector and car thief. Meanwhile, a lobotomised scientist is on the loose in the city in a Chevy Malibu that’s worth $20,000 to the repo men and is carrying something very strange and glowing in the trunk...
Alex Cox’s debut is one of those films that shouldn’t work – a foul-mouthed sci-fi conspiracy comedy with a punk rock soundtrack starring Emilio Estevez. But Cox realises that in order for a film as ridiculous as this to work you have to keep a straight face. No matter how nutty things get, the characters never question what's going on, and in the case of Bud, only care about getting the job done. So we have something in a car boot that disintegrates anyone who opens it, a group of shady black-suited guys who hang out in a surveillance van with their metal handed lady boss, repo men exchanging gunfire with their disgruntled victims, an ice-cube hailstorm, and so on. Elsewhere the endless parade of LA misfits include the Rodriguez brothers (a pair of rival repo men), a bumbling punk trio of armed robbers, a feisty secret agent, and an acid-fried, time travel-obsessed mechanic.
With so many characters and sub-plots it’s small wonder that Repo Man is rambling and fairly structureless; but that’s also one of the reasons that it remains so rewatchable. The dialogue is hilarious ("What are you? A fuckin' commie? I don't want no commies in my car. No Christians either!" ) and the performances are spot-on – Stanton plays laconic and wired at the same time, and Emilio Estevez is never better than when he’s acting bratty. The turns from the lesser known actors are as good, particularly Fox Harris as the frazzled scientist on the run with his sought-after cargo.
There’s a lot going on in the background too. Every consumable item seen in the film is identical – white with blue lettering (‘beer’, ‘food’, ‘drink’), Naked Lunch’s Dr Benway gets paged over a tannoy in a hospital, and everyone who works in the repo yard is named after a beer (Bud, Miller, Lite, Oly). Punk veterans The Circle Jerks can be spotted performing some weird punk/doo wop number in a club, and the soundtrack is one of the decade’s best. Iggy Pop provides the theme music, while hardcore pioneers Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and Fear all feature.
Perhaps Cox had doubts about ever getting to make a second film, so threw everything into this one. The director’s subsequent career has proved rather uneven, but Repo Man remains a decade highlight, and one of the few cult classics fully deserving of its status. Produced by ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith.
Maverick British writer/director who made a huge impact with his LA-set 1984 debut, the offbeat sci-fi comedy Repo Man. Sid and Nancy was a powerful second film, detailing the life and death of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious, while Straight To Hell was a flawed but amusing punk western starring The Clash. The expensive flop Walker kept Cox away from the camera for five years - he returned in 1992 with under-rated Spanish-language Highway Patrolman.
Since then, Cox has made a series of low-budget, independent features, such as Three Businessmen, 2002's The Revenger's Tragedy, Searchers 2.0 and sort of follow up Repo Chick, plus the Akira Kurosawa documentary The Last Emperor. British viewers will know Cox as the host of BBC2's '90s cult film show Moviedrome, and he has also penned a guide to Spaghetti Westerns.