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Repo Man

Entry updated 10 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1984). Edge City Productions/Universal. Written and directed by Alex Cox. Cast includes Olivia Barash, Emilio Estevez, Harry Dean Stanton and Tracey Walter. 92 minutes. Colour.

Set in the seedier areas of Los Angeles (see California), this independent, low-budget, semi-surreal film concerns a young man (Estevez) who gets a job as a repo man – a repossessor of unpaid-for cars; his mentor (Stanton) inculcates a proper attitude towards cars through a parody of Isaac Asimov's First Law (see Laws of Robotics). A 1964 Chevrolet Malibu driven by a lobotomized nuclear physicist is driving around town with something nasty and radioactive in the trunk. People who look inside see a glaring white light (shades of Kiss Me Deadly [1955]) which disintegrates them. A series of coincidences (concerning repo men, a teenager obsessed with Aliens, chicano car thieves, middle-class punk thugs and secret agents led by a woman with a metal hand) reveals something about the underbelly of urban life and provides science-fictional metaphors for urban dreams. The Chevy undergoes a final apotheosis: now glowing all over, it drifts into the heavens with two repo men inside. We never learn what was in the car's trunk but, as an acid-head explains early on, UFOs and Time Machines are fundamentally the same thing and getting into specifics misses the point. Repo Man became an instant cult movie, not just because of its punk aesthetics and black humour, but also because of its old-fashioned virtues: it is well made and coherently scripted.

The novelization, by Cox, is Repo Man: Not Just a Job – It's an Adventure (1988). He adapted his script for an unmade 1995 sequel as a graphic novel, Waldo's Hawaiian Holiday (2008), with art by Chris Bones and Justin Randall. Cox's non-sf film Repo Chick (2010) shares some cast members (playing new characters) and subcultural elements, but is otherwise unrelated. [PN/NL]


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