I sat watching Alex Cox’s “Repo Man” with a gaping mouth and sheer bewilderment from beginning to end. Director Cox assembles a slew of various sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, along with a seasoned cast of brilliant actors to concoct a surreal mind fuck that I was never bored by. In fact, I loved it right through to the very end. It’s existentialism, it’s social commentary, it’s punk rock, it’s action, it’s dark comedy, it’s comedy, it’s musical, it’s aliens, it’s crime, it’s a road trip movie, it’s a one of a kind anomaly with Emilio Estevez at his best.
Estevez is very unlike the Estevez we see in future films, playing the punk rocker and wandering soul Otto. He’s a suburban youth whose mother and father are burned out on drugs, they’ve pissed away his college savings for an evangelist. After quitting his job, and having a run in with a back stabbing friend at a party, he runs in to Bud, who tricks him in to stealing a car. Bud belongs to a group of nutty repo men, all of whom take a liking to Otto. Otto just loves the adventure, freedom and money making aspect of being a repo man, and takes to it with ease. Bud and his group of brutally loyal eccentrics mentor Otto, going out on the open road and competing with a rival duo of Mexican repo men, looking for wanted cars that can grant them high commission. Otto lives in a world where everything around him is teeming with activity, and rotting from the inside out.
There isn’t a single moment in the movie where something menacing and harrowing isn’t happening in the background, and it opens up in to a world that’s familiar but also very horrifying. Cox paints L.A. around Otto with so much desolation and enormous character, but also photographs it very much like an alien world that you can barely recognize. Every scene is of a familiar L.A. landmark, but it’s so foreign, it’s startling. From reservoirs to suburban neighborhoods, Otto is lost in a haze odd characters and even odder locales with no escape. While Otto begins realizing his calling, local authorities and mysterious men in black suits are on the hunt for a Chevy Malibu which contains very unusual cargo in the trunk.
Anyone unfortunate enough to open the trunk pays for their curiosity, and soon enough Otto becomes embroiled in the car’s welfare, as well as the welfare of the cargo within. “Repo Man” often wanders in to various other sub-plots, but also zeroes back in on Otto and his quest to find the Malibu. There are a slew of utterly bizarre moments, including a botched liquor store robbery, a meeting in a night club set to a lounge band, and the focus on pine tree air fresheners. It eventually develops in to rich symbolism for trying to cover up a very rotten and despicable world with the façade of something natural. “Repo Man” is filled with excellent direction, and even better performances, and promises a fantastic mind bending ride for folks unfamiliar with its treasures.