Repo Man (1984) – Review

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Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracy Walter, Olivia Barash, Sy Richardson, Susan Barnes, Fox Harris
Written for the Screen and Directed by: Alex Cox
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Metacritic Rating: 75
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%

Rated R

There are two films that can be described as “punk” that I’ve watched: SLC Punk! and, which is quite ironic to me, Josie and the PussycatsSLC Punk! was quite a surprising movie at the time: this is the time period that was dominated by teen movies with Freddie Prinze Jr. Few saw it in theaters, but it received a cult following its DVD release.

Yet, what really is a punk movie? If it just needs to include punk music, then that’s entirely simplistic. Is it all about anti-establishment? Is it the means to be different just to be different? Is it an attitude to promote one’s lack of use in society? Whatever it is, punk hasn’t been defined so hilariously than in Repo Man.

Otto (Estevez) is a young man fed up with his less than stellar jobs. He gets recruited by Bud (Stanton) to become a repo man. Meanwhile, a lot of weird stuff happens, including an alien trunk, robberies and government agencies with flamethrowers.

Repo Man is many things, or it is simply dumb fun. To some, it’s a defining movie, along with Sid & Nancy and The Decline of Western Civilizationof how punk is represented on screen. Everything in the movie, from the characters to even how the movie is produced, screams of a generation of people who shun societal norms.

To others, it’s a campy, strange film with science fiction trappings that is considered a perfect “Midnight Movie” or “Cult Classic”. It’s hilariously over-the-top performances along with special effects that scream B-movie kitsch gives it a so bad it’s good kind of feel.

Make no mistake about it, Repo Man is meant for certain types of film lover, but it’s completely based on what the viewer wants to interpret it as.

Both standards are correct: the movie looks on the cheap and has some  hilariously bad effects that give it a “It’s an 80’s film” feel; but within those aesthetic choices is a film that has a clearly defined personality that is not only hilarious to watch, but easy to root for these anti-heroes. Either way you look at it, it’s an entertaining watch for any film lover.

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Repo Man‘s main strength comes in it’s setting of Los Alamos. The town feels like a dilapidated wasteland that has been overrun by mindless adults and young adults who devote themselves to do whatever they want. It’s like if the apocalypse was set in the 80’s and Sid Vicious was president.

Put it simply, the town is a grungy project that is overrun with crime and destruction. When it’s light, it looks like the world’s largest construction site that was left abandoned. When it’s dark, it takes on a sinister, noir like feel.

The film’s setting isn’t pleasant, but it’s easily the best character in the movie. The people, the settings and situations that arise just from this crazy town provide a good chunk of the entertainment, because it’s wasteland like setting isn’t used for pathos or to send a message: it’s simply exaggerated to provide comedic relief.

The characters themselves are rather one-dimensional, but serve the purpose of keeping the film fast-paced. Each character, including Otto, can be simply described in a few words, but there’s really nothing in the film that needed more depth, other than to enhance the setting.

What enhances the movie past the setting is the screenplay. The dialogue exchanges scream B-Movie, but it’s smartly and cheekily done to a point that it lovingly uses it as an evocation rather than a template.

Characters, while pretty much mundanely brain dead or drugged out of their heads, have hilarious dialogue and smart quips to provide good laughs.

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What the screenplay does best with is the random situations that the movie gets into. For it’s 97 minute run time, there was never a point where a plot line could be telegraphed. There isn’t a part of the movie after watching it then I said “Where the hell did that come from?”

Yet, this doesn’t hurt the movie, it just goes along with the overall feel and aim of the movie itself. The randomness leads to more fun and more laughs than it goes to frustration and confusion.

Finally, the direction of the film is excellent. Sure, there are some directors who specialize in making movies as cheaply as possible (Kevin Smith, Harmony Korine) while being entertaining and providing a distinct feel other than “I’m cheap”.

The low budget feel adds to the randomness and gives the film an authentic feel while being absolutely insane. This definitely adds to the B-Movie feel, but it also provides a grounding in reality while going completely absurdist.

This takes a surprising touch that won’t be obvious to a lot of people who see this movie. Cox is essentially trying to incorporate multiple differing styles (absurdist, realism, dystopian, apocalyptic) to create a singular vision that works around the film itself and he does a great job of combining those elements into a wholly unique movie.

The only problem there is to the film is some annoying characters. The female love interest is pointless and pretty annoying, providing nothing but a shrill scream and an annoying voice to break up the movie. Also, some of the governmental stuff seems kind of out of place.

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In the end, you know if this movie makes you curious to watch it. If you are, definitely give it a watch. Otherwise, the movie is meant for cult followers, punk lovers and film fanatics. The movie does a lot of things right just by it’s setting, but don’t expect deep characters and involving plotlines.

4/5 – A unique movie that deserves a watch, though it’s loaded with kitsch and randomness. 

The Wiz Says #41

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