Repo Man is 20 years old now, and time's given it the look feel of a documentary. Not because it's factually accurate about anything - this is a movie about a space alien glowing in the trunk of an elderly Malibu, after all. But it has an earnest feel for its particular place (underclass L.A.), time (early '80s), and subculture (punk-rock underground) that gives it an aura of truth. Willfully absurd and rich with ironic joking, it was released by Universal but had a spirited indie feel that even most indie films a decade later couldn't match. L.A. punk's moment as a defining part of youth culture is long past, but wherever you see young snotbags and anti-authoritarian pranking today on film and TV, you can bet somebody working on the script was cribbing from Repo Man.
In one of his first leading roles, Emelio Estevez plays Otto, a young punker who's found himself stuck in a dead-end spiral: A cheating girlfriend, zombified parents who live under the hypnotic spell of a televangelist, and crummy job at a supermarket where his best friend is the geeky Kevin (Zander Schloss), who's a sort of proto-Napoleon Dynamite. Lured in by Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a dissipated, disjointed, and cranked-up repo man, Otto begins a new life freeing cars from delinquent owners. Nobody in the repo shop is particularly likeable, but they have the benefit of non-mainstream quirkiness, particularly Miller (Tracy Walter), a half-homeless hanger-on who expounds on a variety of deep matters: John Wayne's sexual proclivities, the ubiquity of tree-shaped air fresheners, and the synchronicities of everyday life.
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