Repo Man (1984): Alex Cox’s Zany Farce

Interest in punk rock also provided the impetus for the satire Repo Man, a critical success and an instant cult favorite.

It is directed by Alex Cox, a Brit who studied film at UCLA and took a job with a car repossession company, when he was unable to find film work after graduation.

Punk rock remained the inspiration for Cox’s next movie, Sid and Nancy (1986), about the doomed love affair between Sex Pistols’ singer Sid Vicious and an American groupie.

A sci-fi thriller which takes a wacky look at a particular L.A. subculture, Repo Man is a zany farce with lunatic characters, including a television evangelist who preaches against “godless Communism abroad and liberal humanism at home.” As a neo-surreal fable, it’s inhabited by failed punk rockers and car-repossession men who behave as if they were the knights errant of capitalism–or creatures from outer space.

Innocent Otto (Emilio Estevez) wandering through this semi-mythological world is a suburban earring-wearing punk who somehow can’t make it with his peers. He tries to detach himself from his customers, but he keeps getting emotionally involved.

After several mishaps, Otto winds up working as a “repo man” for the Helping Hands Acceptance Company, a seedy outfit whose veteran employee is Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). Seldom sober, Bud assumes responsibility for Otto’s “education.” He’s a fast-talker with a line of wisdom for every situation encountered. “A repo man’s life is always intense,” he says after a near-fatal accident on the highway, or “The more you drive, the less intelligent you get.” “Ordinary fucking people, I hate ’em,” says Bud, in what’s the ethos of the movie.

Leila (Olivia Barash) is a pretty woman convinced that a 1964 Chevy Malibu contains the bodies of four aliens in its trunk. “We must find it right away,” she says with desperation, “or they could turn into moosh,” anticipating the Chevy Malibu’s ascension to heaven at the end of the film. Situated between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Used Cars, Repo Man had a touch of Ghostbusters, without the latter’s budget and special effects. The soundtrack, which is full of witty sight gags, is as dense with bizarre non-sequiturs as that of an Altman film.