Friday, November 5, 2010
Maybe the weirdest, trippiest movie I've seen in awhile, and I loved it. I've long been aware of the movie having seen the DVD available at Blockbuster and having heard director Alex Cox's name involved with all sorts of cult classics and favorites. But with what little I knew, it didn't jump out and say 'WATCH ME!' Thankfully, TCM aired it in the last couple of weeks as part of their Friday night Underground series so I gave it a shot. The IMDB description listed sci-fi, action comedy as the type of movie so I knew going in this was going to be a doozy.
After losing his job at a grocery store, young punk Otto (Emilio Estevez) gets duped into stealing a car for veteran repo man, Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). It seems like easy money, and Otto is good at "stealing" cars back for the finance company so he latches on with the company. But as he quickly finds out, the life of a repo man is an intense one where everything rarely goes as smoothly as planned. Otto is plunged into a world where rival repo companies will turn on you for a buck, a mechanic with some interesting theories on aliens, time travel and man's existence, co-workers with their own takes on how to be the best at what they do, and of course, some UFO appearances (naturally of course). Some rogue scientist is on the loose with a trunk full of alien carcasses, but all Otto, Bud and all the repo men in L.A. know is that there's a $20,000 price tag on a wayward Chevy Malibu. All in a day's work.
First off, there is no way -- no way in HELL -- this movie should work. It just shouldn't. There are too many weird elements thrown together in a blender for it to be a quality finished product, yet somehow in the end all the weirdness works for the better. It is as low budget as a movie can be with some of the cheesiest special effects you'll ever see (especially the "alien glow," just watch and you'll understand) in a flick regardless of the decade it was released in. With no real coherent storyline other than a series of interconnecting scenes, director Cox embraces the weirdness. How else could you have made a movie like this without knowing how absolutely ridiculous the whole thing is? It is a cult classic and fan favorite for a reason. It is a movie unlike anything else I have ever seen.
For a weird movie, the tipping point between god-awful and god-awful but still entertaining is the cast in my eyes. Besides Dean Stanton and Estevez (more on them later), Cox uses a cast full of unknowns and character actors who are given a chance to step into the limelight. Just like Cox committing to making a ridiculous movie, the cast plays along, fully embracing it all as they deliver lines so immaculately perfect and bizarre you can't help but go along for the ride. Tracey Walter (<--- you know the face if not the name) is the biggest scene-stealer of them all as Miller, the mechanic with some interesting theories about man, the universe and all it has to offer. His scene where he explains his theories to Otto is as good as it gets. Also look for Vonetta McGee as Marlene, the suspicious secretary, Sy Richardson as Lite, fellow repo man extraordinaire, Fox Harris as rogue scientist J. Frank Parnell, and many more who all make the most of their appearances, some limited to just a quick scene or two.
Just 22 when he made Repo Man, Estevez wasn't known yet as the star of so many very 80s classic movies, but this was quite a start. Whether it is in the Young Gun movies or in the Mighty Ducks trilogy, I've long been a fan of Estevez. Comedy, drama, action, I like him. He was an underrated actor in my mind, and in a part like this where he could be easily overwhelmed by all the goings on around him, he rises to the top. His Otto is more than a little crazy himself, but with all the odd stuff he sees around him, he may be the sanest of them all. Great lead performance and a sign of what's to come for him. Also, he does that maniacal laugh of his that works so well for Otto. As for Dean Stanton, he must have looked like an old man since the day he was born, and as Otto's disheveled mentor is an inspired choice in casting. Their scenes together, driving around L.A. looking to repossess cars keep the movie grounded -- to a certain point -- while still providing some great laughs.
About halfway into the movie, I started questioning where exactly all this was going. How was Cox going to wrap it all up? He saves his best for last with an ending that of course makes no sense, but works the better for it. I thought about warning don't watch, SPOILERS, but I saw the movie and don't get it. Watching it out of context, you'll be lost, but watch it HERE if curious. The pairing of the music and the visual comes together in a way I could have never predicted. A crazy ending for a crazy movie.
Repo Man <---trailer (1984): *** 1/2 /****