Jaclyn Jonet, Miguel Sandoval, Del Zamora, Chloe Webb, Xander Berkeley, Rosanna Arquette
(US DVD: 8 Feb 2011 (General release); UK DVD: 8 Feb 2011 (General release))
Alex Cox never plays by the rules. His seminal Sid and Nancy avoids factual accuracy about the infamous ex-Sex Pistol to carve a genuine portrait of love among disaffected youth, while Walker used modern allusion to tie the story of a 19th century filibuster revolutionary to 20th century problems in Central America. Currently, he is locked in a surreal micro-budget feature ideal which sees newer films arriving chock full of invention and limited in their budgetary boundaries. One has to say that the results, so far, have been fascinating. Searchers 2.0 was a potent industry swipe, while his latest, Repo Chick, takes an equally adept poke at his lingering legacy. Not really a “sequel” to his original punk rock sci-fi experiment, it is instead a sizeable social satire where everything is presented in fake, miniaturized moments of scale-model magic.
When her wild child antics get her in trouble with the tabloids (once again), spoiled heiress Pixxi De La Chasse is disinherited by her snobby family. Forced to get a job, she hooks up with repo company that takes on any task, no matter how big…or small. Hoping to bankrupt her brood, she gets a coworker to wreck their credit score, then sets her sights on a $1 million score. Seems an antique train is up for grabs, and Pixxi believes she’s got the skills to continue avoiding paying the bills. Talking herself onto the elusive locomotive, she learns that the caboose houses a collection of Communist WMDs, and that the genial staff are actually eco-terrorists desperate to make golf illegal and have the President and his Cabinet go vegan. Hoping to protect her potential payday, Pixxi decides to take down these fiends one by one, just as the military is plotting to blow them all off the tracks.
God bless Alex Cox. Few filmmakers follow their own peculiar muse, no matter how much grief or career complaints they seem to get. This was someone who had it all, who was poised to play a major role in the cinema of the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Instead, his name has been bandied about - unfairly, one might add - as a failure, someone infamously fired from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and then sent into exile because he wouldn’t play by the stagnant studio rules. Of course, the truth is much more revealing. Cox has long wanted to be his own boss, so to speak, to answer to no one except his own imagination. Recent DVD released like the masterful Straight to Hell Returns argues for a visionary that violates as many tenants of the artform as he embraces. Infinitesimal financing or not, this is one writer/director dining on his own unique perspective, plating up servings for those strong enough to tackle his tastes.
Repo Chick will piss a lot of people off. Those who still hold a torch for the original Emilio Estevez romp will regard this as nothing short of a slap in the face. Unfortunately, said critics lack the context to comprehend where Cox is coming from. This is a man chewed up and spit out by the mainstream machine, an artist unappreciated and left to rot within a dynamic that demanded a certain commercial appeal. Instead of bowing to their corrosive conformity, Cox was forced to flee, resulting in a series of works that defy easy description. Others will bemoan the fact that Repo Chick is a greenscreen production, backdrops forged out of detailed photos, computer generated vistas, and a lot of HO scale railroading. But in taking on the plastic disaster which is the media culture circa 2010, why shouldn’t things be equally false and phony?
Also, as a comedian, Cox is relatively insular. He’s like David Lynch in drama or Ken Russell in…anything. What makes him laugh is not necessarily universal, and the headstrong desire to stay firmly within those boundaries makes something like Repo Chick a hard sell. But if you allow the movie to make its case, if you let it do things the way it wants to do them, you’ll soon realize how stunning his conceits really are. The entire take on trumped up fame, the Paris Hilton-ing of celebrity (and the surrounding cash cows) is beautifully realized. Pixxi’s many “jobs” highlight that empty, shallow, and superficial nature of such supposed stardom. Even better are the confused villains. They want to ban golf because it monopolizes valuable land. But when pushed beyond that basic idea, the hatred of the sport is all but ill-defined.
In essence, Cox is arguing that all revolution is a matter of perceived objective. An anti-18 hole mentality is just as valid/vacuous as a pro-Life or fundamentalist religious rational. Similarly, the subjects used to forward the flawed agenda - in this case, a train car full of cliches including a Supreme Court Justice, a corrupt State Senator, and a clueless Jesus freak played with gusto by Chloe Webb - are a cross-section of contemporary complaints. Some may say that Cox is merely out to tweak convention and play plausible infant terrible. At his age, that seems specious. Instead, Repo Chick is a social reflection so bright and direct that it’s often hard to look at. Not because it’s so odd, mind you, but because it’s so accurate in the targets it takes on.
Of course, this won’t satisfy those who grouse for more of the same. Since finding himself put out to pasture - or more accurately, discovering that Hollywood has sewn a planned paddock around him - Alex Cox has remained defiant. His films are primers in never playing by the rules, or avoiding the very elements that make nameless hacks into Tinseltown journeymen. Had he simply bowed to the wishes of his superiors, he’s be out making middling crap like Night at the Museum or some stupid Adam Sandler comedy. Instead, Cox continues to forge his own original pathway, and the many mutant pleasures of Repo Chick are a brazen byproduct of same. His notions may be a tad out of touch, but in today’s pointless motion picture paradigm, they are truly out of this world.