“Never broke into a car, never hot-wired a car. Never broke into a truck. ‘I shall not cause harm to any vehicle nor the personal contents thereof, nor through inaction let the personal contents thereof come to harm’ It’s what I call the Repo Code, kid!”
Even when I saw it back in 1984, I never considered Alex Cox’ outstanding first film Repo Man a purely “punk” movie. Sure, it’s got one of the best (if not the best) soundtracks of any film of that year (some say “ever”, but they’d be dead wrong) and yes, it’s got characters who play “punks” as well as enough of a vibe that makes you think it’s a dopier film than it actually is.
Then, as you’re being entertained by what’s onscreen, one of a few unexpected things happen as the film pops into different genres. As Emilio Estevez’ bored punk Otto Maddox goes from getting fired from his crappy minimum wage job stocking supermarket shelves with generic food to making bigger bucks as a repo man and characters toss out priceless lines like “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are…” or “I don’t want no commies in my car. No Christians either.”, the next thing you know you’re hooked in for the duration…
The plot in a nutshell: When a scientist swipes some alien corpses from a government facility and packs them into the trunk of his 1964 Chevrolet Malibu, both he and his ride become the hot ticket for a pair of competing repossession agencies. Naturally, no one knows what’s in the trunk until the very end, the car changes hands a few times and by the time it’s all sorted out, things get REALLY cosmic and a bit. Into all this madness comes Otto and the film weaves that radioactive Malibu in and out of the plot like Parnell drives it around in the film. The sci-fi elements (and their results) are a large part of the film and you’ll want to click off the over-analytical part of your brain because a lot of odd stuff happens that’s not explained, yet makes perfect sense if you pay attention to what’s happening in the foreground and background of some scenes.
Some people get too caught up in the craziness of Otto’s new life as a repo man and miss out on the overall story that’s actually spelled out in detail by the stranger characters he meets. Although they sound as if they’re nuts, pay close attention to Tracey Walter’s quirky garage monkey, Miller as well as Fox Harris’ radiation-addled Dr. J. Frank Parnell and the film reveals its secrets well before the somewhat loopy ending (that makes sense if you were listening to those crazies). Between that beginning and ending, Cox packs the film with nothing dull and everything worth taking in with both eyes wide open. Otto’s punk pals become petty thieves than full-on (and very un-punk) armed robbers as Otto himself takes to a job he initially turned down like a duck to water. The repo life becomes more thrilling to him than his former lifestyle, offering him up a new “family” of nuts to hang out with.
And what a family it is. Between Harry Dean Stanton’s laser-focused Bud (“Tense situations, kid. You get into five or six of ’em a day…”), Vonetta McGee’s tougher than nails Marlene, Richard Foronjy’s crackpot rent-a-cop, Plettschner and the rest of the merry and not so merry men, these are people who’d probably deserve a killer film just about them had Cox the foresight to write one. Otto’s punk friends devolve into caricatures with two of the three meeting nasty demises (before or after delivering memorable sign-off lines) while Otto gets smarter than almost anyone in the picture by the time it’s winding up its weird tale.
So, yeah – you need to see this one if you haven’t yet. That’s an order, by the way. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen Repo Man because I’ve never counted past the fifth or sixth time (and that was back in 1984). It’s not flawless and it doesn’t “speak” to me as anything other than a great blending of genres and all the right people in all the right parts with the right music driving it all into… somewhere.