Repo Man (1984), not to be confused with the movie about two guys who go around repossessing people’s internal organs when they miss a payment, is a Punk Rock classic starring Emilio Estevez as a clean cut kid in the dirty business of repossessing cars in the seedy underworld of Los Angeles.
Otto Maddox (Estevez) has just been fired from his job as a supermarket stock boy due to his lack of respect for authority. Later that night at a Punk Rock house party, he also finds out that his girlfriend Debbie is cheating on him with his best friend Duke. To make matters worse, Otto also finds out that his hippie parents gave away money that was promised to Otto for finishing college to a sleazy televangelist. What’s a broke, depressed punker supposed to do now?
After a long night of drinking and wandering the streets, Otto runs into Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) who pleads with Otto to help get his pregnant wife’s car out of a bad area and deliver it to the hospital where she’s going into labor. Otto initially refuses to take the job for less than $20 and finds out that he has been suckered into stealing a car.
Otto laughs at his brush with danger and follows Bud to the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation (a repo center full of degenerates). Otto declines the offer to join the ranks of the company, but changes his mind once he is paid for his services. Oly, the head of the company (Tom Finnegan) asks Otto “How bout it kid, we’re always looking for a few good men.” Otto replies “I ain’t gonna be no repo man.” Marlene (Vonetta McGee), the company secretary tells him “To late you already are.”
Bud begins to show Otto the ropes of being a repo man such as working on commission and staying up till the wee small hours of the morning by doing blow off of the dashboard of their rent-a-wreck repo mobile. The car chases, repo rivalry of the Rodriguez brothers, and brushes with angry car owners who fail to pay their bills on time makes Otto’s old Punk Rock lifestyle seem very tame by comparison.
The side story of the film is that everyone involved are all out to posses a 64’ Chevy Malibu for a fee of twenty thousand dollars which contains the bodies of four dead aliens which vaporize anyone who opens up the trunk. There’s a great sense of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, World in which everyone is out to double and even triple cross one another to obtain the Chevy Malibu and get the reward.
Some of the most hilarious re-occurring jokes throughout the film are the collections of pine tree air fresheners that show up in random places, like on the windshield of a highway motorcycle cop’s bike who pulls over J. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris) the man who is driving around with the aliens in the trunk of the Malibu. The names of the members of the repo agency are named after American beers like Lite, Oly, Bud, and Miller.
My favorite running gag throughout the film are the generic labels used for products in the background of many scenes. Due to the film’s small budget, the production team used white labels with blue trim for products like “beer”, “London dry gin” “instant potatoes” and my personal favorite when Otto finds out his folks gave away his money, Otto is eating out of a can simply labeled “food”.
The film became an instant hit with critics and the film was voted as one of the best films of 1984. Ex Monkey turned producer Michael Nesmith became the head backer for the film and was responsible for the success of the film. The film’s success is also due to Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy, Straight to Hell, Walker) and his unique vision and story telling. A native of England, Cox lived in L.A. for several years and actually was a repo man in order to help pay the bills before becoming a cult filmmaker.
Repo Man is a cult favorite between myself and a small group of friends who love the premise and the great soundtrack that fuels the film. In one scene, Otto is in a bar listening to an acoustic version of the song “When the Shit Hits the Fan” by the legendary L.A. Punk band The Circle Jerks.
Otto shakes his head in disbelief and says, “I can’t believe I used to like these guys.” Classic scene. The dialogue is hysterical and endlessly quotable in fact, when most of my friends and I get together for a viewing, we can’t get enough of our favorite lines like “Repo man is always intense”, “Repo man’s got all night, every night.” And my favorite “Look at those assholes over there. Ordinary fucking people I hate ‘em.”
Repo Man is available on DVD through Universal Home Entertainment and can be streamed via Netflix and Vudu.