Back in 1984 when Alex Cox’s Repo Man was released, it was just about the coolest thing going. Of course, back in 1984, Alex Cox was a cool young filmmaker, Emilio Estevez was a cool young actor, and Harry Dean Stanton was just plain cool. Of those statements, the only one that is still completely valid is the last. Looked at today, Repo Man has lost a little of its luster. Most of the shock value is gone, and some of it feels like it’s trying too hard. The latter is excusable, because the film found itself faced with taking on the age of Reagan, new wave and punk rock, televangelists, aging hippies, Scientology (called “Dioretix” in the film), generic products, the new nihilism, the Weekly World News … you name it. That’s a heady combination. If it sometimes feels a little like warmed-over John Waters, it’s still a pretty audacious work. Any movie containing a Spanish version “Secret Agent Man” gets bonus points.
With its deliberately cheesy special effects and its meandering (but ultimately very connected) story line, Repo Man set out not merely to transgress on every imaginable topic, but to make fun of some of the very culture that spawned it. Sure, connecting space aliens, the government and evangelical Christianity was a wild poke at conservative values, but it’d be hard to say that the whole new wave and punk scene comes off much better. Perhaps the whole attitude is best summed up when Harry Dean Stanton is relieved to find out that Estevez isn’t a “commie,” because he doesn’t want any “commies” riding in his car. He thinks about it for a second and adds that he doesn’t want any Christians either. It’s that kind of movie.