Universal // 1984 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // February 6th, 2006
J. Frank Parnell: You don't even know what's in your own trunk! And you know what? I think you're afraid to find out!
I asked Harry Dean Stanton why Repo Man has been released so many
times on DVD, and he just looked at me. "You don't get it do you? It's
already been shot, and it's in the can."
"But Harry, of course the movie is in the damn can. Wasn't it made in 1984?" I asked, confused.
"No man. Everything, this whole thing. Life! You can't change anything. It's all been shot, it's all in the can. Predestination."
"Harry, this is no way to start a review. People are going to be confused."
"That's what was supposed to happen. I can't change that"
"Um...okay. So what about this movie? The one from 1984, not the one we're in now."
"Short poem...Old frog. Still pond. Frog jumps in. Splash! That's all you need."
"Dude, take my cigarettes. I'm not ever coming to you for another introduction to a DVD review again."
"Splash! Don't you get it?"
Emilio Estevez (The Breakfast Club) is Otto, an ambitionless suburban punk who has just lost his job at the grocery store because he doesn't stack the cans right. He meets a crusty old repo man named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton, Alien), who seduces him into the biz of stealing cars for commissions from finance companies. Suddenly Otto's life becomes all about UFO cultists, a mysterious hottie named Leila, Spanish revolutionaries, a woman with a metal hand, blonde G-men, and a nuclear scientist who may have some alien corpses or a neutron bomb in the trunk of a Chevy Malibu that everyone wants.
Repo Man may well be one of the most influential films of the '80s. Don't believe me? Check out the origins of Napoleon Dynamite, because he's in this movie already. X-Files? It's already here. Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers have cribbed major elements from this movie (most blatantly in Pulp Fiction and Raising Arizona). This was the little cult title that could; the mouse that roared. Seemed like all my friends saw it, we watched it endlessly, and we all worshipped the soundtrack. The film seemed to grow like a fungus, and it's been the stuff of legend ever since it came out. If you haven't seen it, you can't claim to be cool or worthy to talk about cult film. Any loser can dress up like Frank N. Furter for Halloween, but only the hippest of the hip can quote this cinematic gem.
What makes Repo Man the measure of cool? It's an impossible movie to define or classify. Remember when you were a kid and you'd go to a soda fountain and make a kamikaze? A vile concoction of every soda available on tap. You'd run down the line mixing Sprite, Coke, Dr. Pepper, and Orange Fanta. Repo Man is the film equivalent of that practice. It's equal shots noir, socio-political satire, sci fi, comedy, drama, crime film, road movie, and conspiracy flick all rolled in to one package. On top of all this, it's fun as hell to watch. A young Emilio, a crusty cool Harry Dean Stanton, and tons of Alex Cox regulars all buoy the film to give it a light yet deeply existential tone all it's own. There's never been a film quite like it before or after, and even Cox never quite found the magic again. (See Straight to Hell, featuring Joe Strummer, Courtney Love, Dennis Hopper, and Grace Jones for proof.)
I'd like to dispel a myth, and assure you the generic food products featured so prominently in many scenes are real products. Everybody thinks it is some silly convention of the filmmakers, a sly dig at society. The prop guys just found a generic food store going out of business called Ralph's Supermarket, and it had tons of "food" and "beer" they couldn't legally sell to anyone. They were generic food products that were about to go bad. Nobody wanted product placement in Repo Man, so they were forced to go with non-brands. As sort of a dig at the beer companies that refused to be associated with the film you'll notice many of the repo men are named after beer brands -- Bud, Miller, Lite. One corporation who did sponsor the film was a company that makes those colored pine tree air fresheners, and they got primo product placement, appearing in every car and even on a police motorcycle in the film.
This is a third dip for the film. There was a bare bones edition, and then an Anchor Bay Collector's Edition which featured the movie plus the soundtrack in a collectible tin. I remember thinking that when that release disappeared from my local Best Buy (in the clearance bin no less) that it was the last gasp for Repo Man. So what makes this triple dip different from the rest? The old Anchor Bay Collector's Edition of the movie included the same audio commentary found here. Three things, though, are completely new to this edition: an interview with Harry Dean Stanton that is surreal and has little to do with the movie, deleted scenes with analysis from Alex Cox and Sam Cohen (the inventor of the neutron bomb), and a roundtable discussion of the film with producers, cast members, and Alex Cox. The extras do make this one the ultimate edition of Repo Man released so far. They are as trippy and well executed at the film itself. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is razor sharp, and the movie looks better than it did in 1984. Usually movies from this period look soft and grainy, but this one looks like it was shot last week. The surround stereo is great when you consider how influential the soundtrack is. Nothing compares to hearing the Circle Jerks in five speakers. But for all you purists, the original mono is also preserved.
The packaging is strange, and a little less cool than Anchor Bay's previous releases, which preserved the film's theatrical release poster. The cover, the title lettering, and the new triptych almost in black and white all remind me of Sin City. And this is definitely not anywhere even near that film in tone or approach. Hell, Sin City was all about the over-the-top special effects, while Repo Man's biggest special effect is a Chevy Malibu painted with groovy 3M glow-in-the-dark paint. They're polar opposites, so I don't get it. Apparently marketing departments are full of clueless wankers who only hope you mistake an older movie for a recent hit.
So what does Repo Man really mean? All I can tell you definitively is "plate of shrimp." Some people have seen it as a punk manifesto; I'd say they were wrong. The punks in the movie are about as significant as anyone else in the film. It's more about the fabric of American culture seen through a parody of teenage and sci fi films of the '50s set in the '80s. In the end it seeks to destroy any preconceived notions we have about what the story means. There were three endings imagined for the climax, including what we see in the final print, all of Los Angeles blowing up, or Otto heading off to South America to join a revolution. All three endings take the direction of leaving America for something more; something higher (or the blatant destruction of America with the bomb ending). As its stands, I'd like to think Otto gets to escape the '80s and end up in another time period. Maybe he's out driving around in my neighborhood right now. That would make me happy. Harry Dean Stanton would say, "It means what it was always meant to mean," shrug, and walk away.
This edition is definitely worth an upgrade even if you own the cool-as-hell tin set collector's edition from Anchor Bay. Sorry, but you're gonna have to buy the damn thing again. And if you haven't bought it yet, you need to track this one down. Just click that little link up at the top, order it from Amazon, and fork over the extra coin for express shipping. Because if I run in to you on the street and you can't quote Repo Man, I'm going to have to kick your ass. And given that I usually dress as Frank N. Furter for Halloween, I may not be able to take you on. So I'll have to resort to stealing your car.
Guilty of being one of the coolest films ever. It's the Easy Rider of the '80s.
Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Interview with Harry Dean Stanton
* Deleted Scenes
* Repossessed -- A Round Table Discussion of the Film
* Group Commentary Featuring Director/Writer Alex Cox, Executive Producer Michael Nesmith, Casting Director Victoria Thomas, and Actors Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, and Del Zamora