Blu-ray Review: Repo Man (Criterion Collection)

A true loner, writer/director Alex Cox has zealously avoided participating in mainstream Hollywood films throughout his career. One look at Cox’s best known film, 1984’s Repo Man, makes it clear that he is not a filmmaker concerned with being conventional. Repo Man defies categorization. There’s humor. But it’s not comedy in the strictest sense. It’s a drama, but it also has moments of utter nonsense. Whatever its genre, Repo Man demands your attention, and manages to keep it until the credits roll.

Repo Man begins with an insane nuclear scientist J. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris), speeding down a New Mexico road in a Chevy Malibu. The car is stopped by a policeman who finds some really strange stuff going on in the trunk. From there, the scene switches to Los Angeles, where urban punk Otto (Emilio Estevez) is having a horrible day, having lost his girlfriend and his job. A short time later, he finds himself “accidently” helping a repo man named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) get a car out of a less than desirable neighborhood. Otto and the pill popping Bud quickly hit it off, and Bud takes the younger man under his wing, teaching him the ‘repo code.’ Repo men live their lives on the edge, partly because of the stress, and partly because as Bud explains, “I’ve never known a repo man who didn’t use a lot of speed.” Harry Dean Stanton has appeared in numerous films in a career that has spanned more than fifty years. Given his weathered appearance, he looks like someone who’s had a rough life, and used a lot of speed. He also has the total pessimism that brings realism to his portrayal of a veteran repo man. In Emilio Estevez with his young, baby faced looks is Stanton’s opposite, but they make a good team; Bud is the cynical veteran, and Otto is the arrogant kid, as they travel the streets searching for cars.

Repo ManAs Otto learns the repo ropes, the feds are looking for that Chevy Malibu, because it might have a connection to aliens visiting Earth. With the government offering a $10,000 reward for the car, every repo man in the city is on the lookout.    On the Malibu’s trail, Bud and Otto soon run into the Rodriguez brothers, the area’s most feared repo thugs. Meanwhile, a group of Otto’s punk friends, needing cash, decide to hit up a couple of liquor stores. Having a good time, they end up running into the Rodriguez brothers who’ve managed to steal the car from the mad scientist. The punks take the car and disappear into Los Angeles. Shortly, thereafter, parts of the city experience unusually large hail.

The characters in Repo Man are vividly drawn, and the narrative unfolds at a fast pace, but not to the determent of the plot. Along the way, the independent Cox takes on the capitalistic Reagan era in several ways: every man in the repo garage is named after a beer (Miller, Bud, Lite, Oly). Even one of the characters wears a plain wrap T-shirt over his beer gut that says “Beer.” Also, references to plain, labeless groceries; no individual trademarks exist. It’s the ultimate statement about the dangers of capitalism. Repo Man is a movie that dared to be different, and in the process became a cult classic.

Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s 1080p presentation looks wonderful for a film released nearly thirty years ago. Color is unsaturated throughout, and sharpness is top shelf. Black levels are stable, and detail is outstanding.

The LPCM mono sound mix fits the film very well. Dialogue is crystal clear, and the active sound design has been replicated accurately. While this mix won’t blow anyone away, Repo Man has never sounded better.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The following special features are available:

  • Audio Commentary: Recorded in 1999, director Alex Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Del Zamora, Zander Schloss, and Sy Richardson have a nice chat, discussing casting, filming, and errors that made the cut.
  • The TV Version (SD, 136:54) Alex Cox and Dick Rude’s re-edit of Repo Man for American network television.
  • Repossessed (SD, 25:31) Sitting around a dinner table, Alex Cox, and producers Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks share an interesting discussion on the production history of the film.
  • The Missing Scenes (SD, 25:11) While looking at some deleted scenes, we get some a fascinating discussion with Alex Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith and real-life neutron bomb inventor Sam Cohen.
  • Harry Zen Stanton (SD, 21:21) Recorded in 2005, actor Harry Stanton shares how his view of the universe influences his acting.
  • Plate O’ Shrimp (HD, 19:19) New interviews with Dick Rude, Olivia Barash, Miguel Sandoval and Keith Morris, musicians from Black Flag and Circle Jerks. They share their thoughts on the film’s punk themes, its representation of the punk culture, the soundtrack, the casting and more.
  • Iggy Pop (HD, 11:57) The rock legend discusses the theme song, and the film’s overall themes.
  • Trailers (HD) Two trailers for the film, which utilize some of the deleted material.
  • Booklet: An illustrated 68-page booklet which includes an essay by critic Sam McPheeters, an illustrated production history by Cox, and a 1987 interview with real-life repo man Mark Lewis.

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