Review: Repo Man (1984)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #701

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: March 2, 1984
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Cult Film
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $1,500,000
Box Office: $3,750,080
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Alex Cox
Producers: Peter McCarthy, Michael Nesmith, Gerald T. Olson, Jonathan Wacks
Screenplay: Alex Cox
Special Effects: Roger George, Robbie Knott
Visual Effects: William Cruse
Cinematography: Robby Müller
Score: Tito Larriva, Steven Hufsteter
Editing: Dennis Dolan
Studio: Edge City
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash, Sy Richardson, Susan Barnes, Fox Harris, Tom Finnegan, Del Zamora, Eddie Velez, Zander Schloss, Jennifer Balgobin, Dick Rude, Miguel Sandoval, Vonetta McGee, Richard Foronjy, Helen Martin

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Simple Minds “Don’t You Forget About Me”
Iggy Pop “Repo Man”

[3] The Plugz “Reel Ten”
[4] Circle Jerks “Coup d’Etat”
[5] Burning Sensations “Pablo Picasso”

Do you ever wonder what happened to the Brat Pack? For the answer to that question, it’s probably best that you ask David Blum, contributing editor at New York Magazine from 1985-1992. You see, this exclusive group of highly successful film stars in their early twenties were flying high until he wrote a damning exposé for his rag and discredited the living shit out of them (a dick move he now bitterly regrets). The best known members of this clique were Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy; and appearing in either John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club or Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire seemingly guaranteed you enrollment.

It was fun while it lasted, but in actual fact, it as much more than that besides. The Brat Pack represented an entire generation and caused young people the world over to take a long hard look at trending topics such as class distinction, friendship, love, sex, fashion, and of course, eighties pop culture. Yet it all came to a crashing halt pretty much overnight, and while certain members managed to recover from the tag that eventually became a curse, others simply faded into perpetual obscurity.

One such disappearing act came from Charlie Sheen’s half-brother Estevez, who was often dubbed the ringleader of the Brat Pack and was hot damn property as the decade wore on. Aside, starring in both the aforementioned movies, his credits included John Badham’s Stakeout, Christopher Cain’s Young Guns and Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive. If there was a solitary thing he could do wrong, then Emilio didn’t seem to have the faintest idea how to do it.

To be fair, he worked consistently through the nineties, although taking the role of coach in Stephen Herek’s kid-friendly sports comedy, The Mighty Ducks no doubt did him absolutely no favors and he ended up typecast soon after. However, in his prime, there were few more naturally charismatic leading men in the industry and some of his lesser known works have gone on to gain considerable cult acclaim. One of these is Alex Cox’s Repo Man, which earned widespread praise on its release in 1984 and is considered by many as one of the best movies the year had to offer.

Despite turning a fairly decent profit theatrically and on home video, Cox’s film seemed to vaporize from plain sight soon afterwards and is only now getting the recognition I feel it deserves. It’s not big and neither is it particularly clever but it is a Chevy Malibu-load of fun and the fact that it has dated only serves to add to its undeniable charm.

Estevez plays Otto Maddox – a young, dumb and cum-filled L.A. punk rocker whose sole responsibility in life is to party hard and dip his stick whenever the opportunity presents itself. Fired fro his role as a supermarket clerk for dropping the F-bomb and assaulting a fellow member of his staff (who also happens to be his gormless buddy), Otto is in need of a quick cash fix and isn’t particularly fussy where it comes from or what is entailed in the payday. So when a chance meeting with washed up repo man Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) provides him with an open door to easy money, Otto doesn’t need a great deal of convincing to sign up for active duty. Besides, with a name like the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation, the pay is bound to be decent right?

Indeed it is but it turns out that a lot more will be required of Otto than simply smartening up and turning up for work bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. According to his new mentor, “the life of a repo man is always intense”, and so it proves as he finds himself huffing amphetamines, hot-wiring motors and participating in high-speed car chases with the famed Rodriguez brothers before he knows it. On the distinct upside, he soon snags himself a hot rod in local girl Leila (Olivia Barash) whilst acquiring a red Cadillac on the QT.

Naturally Otto’s thoughts don’t extend past the potential blow job he has coming to him, but her position at the United Fruitcake Outlet (or U.F.O. for the conspiracy theorists) provides something of a dead giveaway that things he’s associating with a bona fide crackpot. Despite his frequent attempts to hump her leg at every turn, Leila confides in Otto, although I’d imagine he has other ideas about the moment they are about to share.

If what she’s suggesting is true then that speed he just snorted is evidently some pretty potent shit. You see, Leila believes that aliens are rife in this neck of the woods, and even more mysteriously, are huddled close in the trunk of a Chevrolet Malibu being piloted by a mad scientist type who has recently been the subject of lobotomization. If there’s one thing that gets Otto’s denims tight (other than the idea of Leila blowing her gum into the tip of his urethra), then it would be a good old-fashioned challenge and he makes it his uppermost priority tracking this automobile down. However, this particular Chevy happens to be somewhat sought-after and he faces stiff competition from all manner of sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies and dickheads, not to mention government agents if he’s looking to repossess this vehicle.

While the traditional Brat Pack fare was often centred around charmed white, middle-class teens, Repo Man sets cruise control to the wrong side of the tracks, where the true dregs of society are known to reside. I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever seen so many deadbeats crammed into one movie and pleasingly each hood rat is even more irradiated than the last. In addition, the good folk over at Helping Hand are a flavorsome bunch for sure, none more so than Miller (Tracey Walter) and Lite (Sy Richardson), who impart two completely different kinds of wisdom while showing this jizz-fuelled young whippersnapper the ropes.

Then we have our unsung star of the movie, the elusive Chevy Malibu. We know there’s something toxic in the trunk from as far back as the opening scene but Cox wisely keeps a lid on the extraterrestrials, and instead, teases us whenever the vehicle procures itself fresh ownership. Like a filthy little secret, it bides its time, and every now and then, whammo! It’s time for some meltdown baby. The crude X-Ray scan effects fit like a custom-made hazmat suit and all we’re left with are a pair of smoking boots and a shit-eating grin spread between cheeks one and two. Bud did comment on the likeliness of shit getting intense and it makes for one helluva bumper payday.

Repo Man juggles the hot potato for almost ninety fun-filled minutes before the hub caps finally come off the wagon. Where Cox’s film is concerned, this is actually something of a compliment as any pretense to reality was decidedly slender anyhoots. To be honest, it’s just been a blast hanging out with Estevez and the ever-glorious Harry Dean Stanton. Curiously, Stanton was often referred to as something of a granddaddy to the Brat Pack after appearing in such teen-oriented classics as Hughes’ Pretty in Pink and John Milius’ Red Dawn. So if you find yourself pondering over the whereabouts of its patrons, then Cox’s film may just clean that one up for you. Which begs the question, how many Brat Packers can you cram beneath your hood?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Read Maximum Overdrive Appraisal
Read Better Off Dead Appraisal
Read Deep Cover Appraisal
Read Trancers Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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