Volume 96, Issue 89
Wednesday, March 19, 2003

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Outside the box: Repo Man

Repo Man (1984)
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Harry Dean Stanton, Tracey Walter
Directed by: Alex Cox

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

When you think of Emilio Estevez in the 1980s, you think of Brat Pack classics like The Breakfast Club or St. Elmo's Fire which are hilariously dated. His breakthrough film, however, was a small 1984 movie called Repo Man that still holds up today as a modern cult classic.

This is the kind of movie where the plot pretty much defies description. Estevez plays Otto, a would-be Southern California punk alienated from his family and friends, who is generally just angry at life. Mostly by accident, he ends up getting a job as a repo man, working with a zany cast of characters including the burned-out hippie Miller (Tracey Walter) and the unofficial leader of the group, Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), who is wise in a loser kind of way.

The gang acts as modern-day outlaws, getting into numerous, hilarious adventures trying to repossess cars. They have numerous run-ins with the renegade reposessors, the Rodriguez brothers (Eddie Velez, Del Zamora) and a gang of would-be punks led by Otto's ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Delgobin).

Then there's the mad scientist driving around Los Angeles in a 1964 Chevy Malibu with alien corpses in his trunk that effectively act as neutron bombs. Otto ends up chasing the car while trying to evade the Rodriguezes, his ex, an insane TV evangelist and the government.

By this point, you're probably thinking that marijuana was involved in the making of this movie, but director/writer Alex Cox (who later directed the Sid Vicious biopic Sid & Nancy) fills Repo Man with wall-to-wall hilarity. The film works best on DVD, as you may have to often pause and rewind scenes to catch all of the verbal humour and sight gags that you miss the first time around.

For example, one scene features Otto and Bud repossessing a car from a rich yuppie while he's in a laundromat. The angry reaction of the yuppie is funny enough to make the scene work on a basic comic level, but it gets even better during his argument with the other customers about trying to get two machines next to each other – and also if you notice that his load of laundry is composed entirely of alligator shirts.

For a modern comparison, Repo Man is comparable to the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski, another film that adds on one absurdist layer of humour after another. The film also has a great soundtrack, featuring such punk icons as Black Flag, Iggy Pop and the Circle Jerks.

Most '80s movies, when watching them today, retain none of their original meaning and are now only useful for rousing games of spot-the-mullet. Repo Man, however, is still just as weirdly cool today as it was back in 1984.

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