Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Repo Man: Special Edition (1984)
Studio Line: Artisan - …It's 4 A.M., do you know where your car is?

Los Angeles punk Otto (Emilio Estevez) is headed nowhere fast until the day he meets car reposessor Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) and unwittingly becomes a repo man. Now, armed with the 'Repo Code' and on the trail of one very strange '64 Chevy Malibu, Otto is thrown into a world of nuclear weaponry, armed robbery, alien life forms, government agents and plates of shrimp. It's all a part of the most intensely hilarious cult classic of the '80s…but the life of a Repo Man is always intense.

Written and directed by Alex Cox (Sid & Nancy, Straight To Hell), Repo Man also features a landmark punk soundtrack by Iggy Pop, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, Fear, Los Plugz and more.

Director: Alex Cox
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash, Sy Richardson, Susan Barnes, Fox Harris
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1; THX; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 20 chapters; rated R; 92 min.; $29.98; street date 8/22/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Alex Cox, Executive Producer Michael Nesmith, Casting Director Victoria Thomas, and Stars Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, and Del Zamora; Theatrical Trailer; Video Trailer; Talent Bios; THX Optimode.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/B/C+

Probably my first experience with the concept of "repo men" came from an early episode of The Flintstones. In "No Help Wanted" - the sixth show broadcast - Barney gets fired from his job because of Fred's stupidity. Feeling guilty, Fred finds Barney work as a furniture repossessor. First target? Fred's TV.

Of course, Fred doesn't react happily to Barney's attempts to take away his beloved set,and hijinks ensue. A great episode, frankly, and it may have been the inspiration for Repo Man, an influential cult classic from 1984.

Probably not, but I suppose it's possible. RM bears little similarity to "NHW" other than the concept of the repossessor and also the animosity and violence aimed toward that person. I always thought repo men got a bad rap. People get to take possessions with them - cars, TVs, whatever - based on good faith; the sellers trust the buyers to repay their debts. When that doesn't happen, clearly the original owners of the products are entitled to take them back, but the deadbeats don't see it that way; when someone tries to reclaim what doesn't belong to the debtors, the latter often react negatively.

It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it, and Repo Men attempts to depict the seedy and sordid world of these workers. Well, sort of - it certainly won't be mistaken for a documentary about these folks. Instead, it combines a picture of their environment with an odd government conspiracy story about a Chevy Malibu with some aliens in the trunk. Combine the grittiness of the repo men, the shady fantasy of the alien tale, some LA punk rock tunes and characters, shake well and RM is the result.

Is it a successful attempt? Yeah, pretty much. RM has some trouble living up to its reputation, as it's become quite the cult classic. I wonder how popular it would have been without the punk soundtrack; while the movie works well anyway, I think the latter added a certain street credibility to the product that it otherwise might have lacked.

Not that anyone would have mistaken RM for standard studio product in any case. I suppose if it stuck to either the repo man side of the tale or just concentrated on the aliens, it could have been much more ordinary, but the combination of the two makes it almost inevitably quirky and unusual. The oddness seems somewhat forced at times, but for the most part, it comes naturally. Little about the weird parts of the film feel artificial or gratuitous; for example, the constant appearances of generic products could have become annoyingly cute, but they remain far enough in the background to keep from becoming excessive.

Most of RM maintains that balance, and it makes for a witty and entertaining ride. It's a rough film that lacks much polish, but that's the source of some of its charm; something about it seems so crude and raw that material which might otherwise have flopped comes across as interesting. It can be a hit or miss affair, but for the most part, it's fun and clever.

Part of me felt as though it would have been a better film without the aliens subplot. There's enough depth to the concept of the day-to-day repo life that I thought the supernatural element should have been omitted. However, I don't feel strongly in that regard, as there's enough interesting stuff related to the aliens to make those segments worthwhile. Besides, if RM didn't exist, there may never have been Men In Black! (I also think that The Mask borrowed at least one aspect of RM: the former is set in "Edge City", a place mentioned in RM. Repo Man isn't a great film, but it's fun and clever and it's held up surprisingly well over the last decade and a half. Portions of it appear dated, but it transcends those limitations well enough to make it worth a screening.

The DVD:

Repo Man appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture shows some flaws related to its age and low-budget origins, but it generally holds up pretty well.

Sharpness usually looks fairly clear and solid, though some vague fuzziness can interfere at times. The latter issue arises without any obvious causes; some scenes simply appear softer than others. Moiré effects are an occasional concern, and I noticed moderate artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws were pretty minor. Some mild grain occurs periodically, and I noticed a small amount of speckling and a little grit, but the film seemed to lack any more substantial or persistent concerns.

Colors were fairly accurate and well-defined. They never seem very bold or bright but they fit the film's scheme and were acceptably realistic without any signs of noise or bleeding, even during a scene in which red lighting is used. Black levels were solid and dark, and shadow detail looked quite good; I expected those segments to appear hazy but they seemed nicely defined and clear. Ultimately, Repo Man can't overcome its origins completely but it provides a satisfying image nonetheless.

The same sentiments apply to the film's new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It provides a surprisingly broad soundfield. Granted, most of the audio still resides in the center channel, but other sounds spread nicely to the sides and even the surrounds. Effects pop up frequently from the peripheral speakers and add a nice ambience to the mix; music also blasts in solid stereo, and we even hear some occasional dialogue from the sides. The surrounds don't overwhelm but they seemed pretty active and contributed an engrossing aura.

Quality is somewhat erratic but generally good. Dialogue shows some of the most dated audio. Although much of the speech sounds clear and natural, some lines come across as flat and muddy. The same inconsistency applies to effects, which often boast some powerful components but which also can seem thin and dull at times. This occurs even for similar sounds; for example, some gunshots are bright and crisp, but others sound bland and muffled.

Finally, most of the movie's music appears pretty clear and dynamic as well, but some songs are oddly flat. I'd attribute a lot of that to the variety of recordings heard in the film; with so many different sources, it's inevitable that inconsistency will occur. In any case, the track generally sounds very good for its origins and age, especially since it adds some solid bass at times.

Repo Man features a few supplemental materials, the most significant of which is an audio commentary from director/writer Alex Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, and Del Zamora; all of them were recorded together in one session. Overall, this is a fairly interesting and enjoyable track that provides some decent information about the film. Cox probably dominates the proceedings, but all participants get in their two cents and the track seems balanced as a whole. The commentary seems somewhat scattered at times and it lacks much focus, which is usually the case with multiple-participant tracks; the extra contributors may add variety, but the piece becomes less cohesive as a whole.

The Repo Man commentary delves into a fair amount of nostalgic comments, and the participants also spend a lot of time simply enjoying the movie; many probably have not seen it in years and they clearly had a good time as they watched it. Some people find that kind of atmosphere enjoyable and contagious, but I don't like tracks where "that's a great scene!" and laughter overwhelm the proceedings; when I screen commentaries, I want to learn information about the film and not just listen to strangers giggle. However, this track offers enough of interest to overcome those flaws for the most part, and it made for a generally enjoyable listen.

As first seen on the Fight Club DVD - and also available with Supergirl and some other Anchor Bay DVDs - Repo Man includes the "THX Optimode" program to set up your TV. You can find this if you click on the THX logo at the bottom of the main menu. This provides you with information to correctly configure various audio and video aspects of your home theater. I don't think it fully replaces something like Video Essentials, but then again, "Optimode" comes as a free addition to a DVD, so it's clearly a bargain. If you haven't already used VE or some similar product, you should find "Optimode" very helpful.

A few other minor extras appear. We get the film's theatrical trailer plus an ad for the video release. Finally, we find very solid "talent bios" for director Cox, producers Nesmith, Peter McCarthy, and Jonathan Wacks, and actors Estevez and Stanton; Anchor Bay produce some excellent biographies, and these are no exception.

After more than 15 years, Repo Man continues to provide an entertaining and fun experience. It's a rough piece of work but it seems interesting and clever nonetheless. The DVD provides decent picture, surprisingly good sound, and a few solid extras, most notably in the form of an audio commentary. RM at least merits a rental, and already-established fans of the film will want to pick up a copy.

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