‘Repo Man’ duke of cult films

By Sean Leary

If the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ is the king of cult films, then ‘Repo Man’ must merit at least the status of a duke. As with most cult movies it delivers its message in an offbeat, looney way, but the movie also teems with dry, satirical humor.

‘Repo Man’ has its ties to celebrity-hood as it stars a then unknown actor named Emilio Estevez and was produced by Michael Nesmith – the stocking capped Mike on the Monkees television show. But it is ensconced in cult movie lore due to its odd subject matter, seminal success, and setting in a strange subculture that few middle-of-the road people can identify with.

The story concerns a 19-year-old punk named Otto (Emelio Estevez) who gets fired from his job at a supermarket because of his attitude. Broke, he turns to his stoned hippie parents for money, only to find that they’ve given all of their savings to a televangelist. Dejected, he goes to a party to find his girlfriend in bed with one of his skinhead friends. Then, his life begins to change.

After his setbacks he finds himself wandering aimlessly when Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) coerces him to help him repossess a car, which leads him into the world of the repo men.

The rest of the movie is devoted to the adventures he undergoes in his job. All the while, all the repo men hunt for an elusive Chevy Malibu with a $20,000 bounty on it which supposedly contains the bodies of dead extra-terrestrials in its trunk.

If that sounds a bit bizarre, you should see the movie; it’s filled with unusual and imaginative situations. The characters are quirky and the direction (by Alex Cox, also of Sid and Nancy fame) is odd, using long, droning shots and an observational eye that suggests the director himself isn’t all there.

On top of everything, the film is hilarious in a deadpan way. There aren’t any set-up jokes, or anyplace a laugh track could usually be inserted, but the situations, the characters, and their reactions are enough to leave someone with a slightly warped sense of humor in stiches. Not everyone may get it, but those who do will die laughing.

There are several funny details placed in the movie, along with a generous helping of foreshadowing and recurring details that would make Carl Jung proud. For example, all the food in the movie is completely generic. When Otto opens his parent’s refrigerator, he pulls out a plain white can with the word ‘food’ in plain black letters embossed upon the side. In another instance, Bud says to Otto, “Let’s go get a drink.” which cuts to a shot of Bud placing a six-pack of white cans marked ‘drink’ upon a counter.

That leads to another detail; all of the repo men, Bud, Miller, Lite, and Oly, are named after beer brands. There are far too many details to go in to and list here, and besides, it’s a lot more fun discovering it yourself as you watch the movie.

It’s this punkish, cocky attitude that surrounds Otto and solidifies him as the only remotely sane person in the entire movie. The insanity of the characters isn’t overplayed though, it’s just accepted as everyday life.

I personally found ‘Repo Man’ to be a great, offbeat movie, but I can’t say everyone will agree. I’d definitely advise seeing it at least once though, just to experience it. It’s available on home video, and has also been played as a midnight movie in a lot of movie theatres. One thing is for sure – you haven’t seen anything like it before, and at least you won’t get pelted with rice or toilet paper.