Sunday, January 16, 2011

repo chick...

A long time favorite filmmaker of mine, Alex Cox has never really received the kind of attention and credit his work deserves. After the relative successes of REPO MAN and SID & NANCY, he alienated audiences and critics with films that were too esoteric (STRAIGHT TO HELL) or too esoteric and radically political (WALKER). After a couple more stabs at mainstream indie films, with HIGHWAY PATROLMAN and THE WINNER (which I believe Cox ultimately had his name taken off of due to editorial conflict), the filmmaker retreated into a world of even more esoteric, lower-budgeted films which he had more creative control over. The results have been mixed (I'm more partial to THREE BUSINESSMEN than THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY), but the vision of these projects has been purely Cox's, and that's something I respect.

Now comes REPO CHICK, Cox's semi-sequel/semi-remake to his classic REPO MAN. REPO MAN, I must admit, is probably my favorite film of all time. It really changed the way I think about film, storytelling, humor and was also a movie I have long felt a strong sense of identification with, from early adolescence until to day. The REPO MAN soundtrack(featuring Iggy Pop, Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Fear, the Plugz and others) was the first punk album I ever owned. When I was in high school, I rented the REPO MAN VHS tape so frequently from the local video store they'd just let me take it for free if I rented a couple of other movies. My obsession with the film has not abated over the years. Just a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to interview Sy Richardson (who played Lite in REPO MAN and has been in most of Cox's other movies) on my radio show, and that was just a wonderful treat. There's always something to keep my love of REPO MAN alive.

That said, REPO CHICK is absolutely nothing like REPO MAN, although many of the older film's cast members (Miguel Sandoval, Del Zamora, Zander Schloss, Olivia Barash, Jennifer Balgobin) appear and it's fun to see them older and in different roles. Stylistically, though, the movies are radically different, and I do have to give credit to Cox for not simply retreading what worked before, even at the expense of audience satisfaction, because REPO CHICK is frequently kind of a confounding film. Parts are stilted and awkward, almost intentionally so, as much of the humor is very campy. But there is humor, and a lot of it works and provides laughs, and the film is appropriately politically subversive and reasonably clever in that respect.

There are some elements that seem to have to do with budgetary limitations that give the film an at times surreal, almost video art quality. Characters are projected before elaborate backdrops. Scenes of cars and trains driving are done with (intentionally) obvious miniatures. It's colorful and creative and gives the movie a real individual quality.

If REPO CHICK really suffers from anything it's the lack of a strong central character. Jacyln Jonet is appealing enough as the REPO CHICK, but her whole character is constructed to be kind of unsympathetic and unlikable. This isn't bad in and of itself, movies don't require likable leads to be good, but in a film this fast-paced and cartoonish, the result was somewhat alienating. Time is also a factor, as some character development is eschewed in favor of moving the comedic plot points forward, we don't get to spend very much intimate time with the Repo Chick, something some of the other characters, particularly Sandoval's (as well as his cohorts played by Richard Beltran from EATING RAOUL and NIGHT OF THE COMET and Rosanna Arquette), are awarded more generously, and to great effect.

So yeah, the part of me that hoped that this would prove to be the second coming of REPO MAN was disappointed, but the part of me that appreciates a highly original, creative albeit flawed campy politicized romp was pleased well enough. Though perhaps REPO CHICK is not a movie for all tastes, I encourage people to see it and especially to see it theatrically if they can, because we need more movies like this, more individual visions, more low budget flicks, more of everything REPO CHICK is, warts and all...

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