Back when Emilio Estevez was still a star, Alex Cox cast him in Repo Man – a bizarre, mishmash of a farce that features punk rockers, CIA agents, strange scientists and other oddball characters all chasing a used car with something very radioactive and alarming in the boot (trunk).
The title refers to one particular weirdo – Bud, a sleazy character who makes his living by repossessing cars around Los Angeles, played intensely by Harry Dean Stanton – although Cox had originally intended the role for Dennis Hopper.
Having lost his girlfriend and his menial supermarket job, Otto (Estevez) meets up with Bud and unwittingly helps him repossess a car. Bud hires Otto on the spot.
When an anonymous source posts a $20,000 reward for a missing 1964 Chevy Malibu (driven by a lobotomised nuclear physicist), it turns out that what’s valuable isn’t the car itself, but what’s in the trunk – something which is very hot, glows brightly and disintegrates anyone who comes in contact with it.
The supporting cast is superb, with characters fading in and fading out. Notable is Tracy Walter as the acid-affected mechanic, Miller. His John Wayne discussion is brilliant, as well as the line “Sometimes people just explode”.
Many of the characters are named after well-known brands of beer: Bud, Miller, Lite – yet the consumer products in the film are not just generic, they are literal. So when one character says to another “Let’s get a drink” the next shot reveals a close-up of a six-pack labelled ‘Drink’. At one point, Otto eats directly from a generic can labelled ‘Food’.
Repo Man is packed with more incongruous sight gags than anyone can absorb in one viewing. Keep your eyes peeled for the air fresheners, the generic newspaper box and the watches without hands.
The soundtrack provides a whirlwind tour of the much-underrated backwater that was mid-80s Californian punk. Iggy Pop‘s explosive title track is backed up by Henry Rollins and Black Flag‘s anthem to teenage stupidity, TV Party, and washed down by Suicidal Tendencies‘ brutal attack on psychiatric medicine in Institutionalized.
With two numbers from the idiosyncratic Circle Jerks – including a lounge version of When The Shit Hits The Fan – and The Plugz’s version of the Secret Agent theme, it’s about as far as you can get from The Sound Of Music.
Ex-Monkees guitarist Mike Nesmith’s Edge City Productions made Cox’s film possible.
Harry Dean Stanton
J. Frank Parnell
The Circle Jerks