Repo Man is an adrenaline-high trip that can best be described as an existentialist, sci-fi noir comedy. It was also a studio (!) movie.
The premise is insane: it’s the story of a young punk in a slummy part of LA who gets a job as a repo man, who quickly gets himself wound up in a plot about alien invasion and the threat of nuclear warfare (and tons of funKiss Me, Deadly references). The movie works because it takes an out-of-control plot and plays it for laughs. The storyline is ridiculous, and the characters treat it as such, either reacting with skepticism or fitting the caricature perfectly and fitting into the logic of the story.
In addition to all the crazy going on, there is also a complex and intelligent world created by director Alex Cox. We meet characters from all over Los Angeles, from a grungy house of punks to middle-aged losers to Mexican gangsters. It’s “slice of life” without feeling like it. We encounter these characters organically, as everyone has something at stake in this nutso plot.
Within this vision of LA, we also get some heavy existentialist themes. We quickly get the sense that, in this universe, everything and everyone has a sense of order, which is explained in a great monologue by Harry Dean Stanton’s character Bud, in what he calls the “repo code.” Even in a business which is questionable (and elevates the film to what might be an allegory on the fluidity and arbitrary nature of property rights?), the characters find logic in that which they create for themselves.
I don’t know if the movie quite grazes the level of greatness, but it is probably film at some of its most fun and eye-popping. It’s definitely better than your standard popcorn flick and actually gives audiences an intelligent yet entertaining experience. Few films are as kinetic as Repo Man and it is easy to see why it has become a cult classic.