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January 28, 2011

Movie Review : Repo Chick (2009)

Just last week I posted a review of THE AMAZING BULK, a movie shot entirely in front of a green screen with computer generated backgrounds. In that review I more than implied that I found this an annoying trend, designed solely to make a make a big budget-type story with miniscule funds. The results, however (most of the time), are less than engaging, since the unrealistic imagery fails to transport us to a place we can relate to. I'm happy to say that Alex Cox's REPO CHICK has proven that need not always be the case. His decision to make his latest film with this technology may or may not have been at least partially because of budgetary considerations. But whatever the case, he uses the technique effectively and with a purpose. Like any good work of art, the form here illuminates and supports the content.

Buy Repo Chick on DVD or Blu-ray
Alex Cox is a British film maker best known for his first two features, REPO MAN (1984) and SID AND NANCY (1986). His works since have always been interesting but obscure; too irreverent and too idiosyncratic for the mainstream. However, I have always found his work interesting, intelligent and challenging. REPO CHICK is no different.

Those looking for a sequel to REPO MAN may be disappointed. REPO CHICK can, however, with some scrutiny, be considered a contemporary re-tooling of the same material. As a prologue tells us, "only the dimension has been changed." The two films do have similar plot structures;
both hinge on a rebellious youngster, disowned and disinherited by parents, who stumble upon repossession as a means to redefining themselves. In both cases they uncover a huge political conspiracy. And both films are paranoid, multi-pronged satires of an out-of-control society which has lost its way. There are even a few direct allusions to the original film (in the film's most groan-inducing piece of dialogue: "You guys are repo men. I saw a movie about you!"), as well as at least one cast member in common (Miguel Sandoval).

The plot is hard to summarize, but here goes: In an off-kilter future dimension where the sub-prime mortgage crisis has made repossession the most lucrative business in the nation, Pixxie De La Chasse (Jaclyn Jonet), media star and rebellious bad girl, is cut off by her parents (Karen Black and Xander Berkley) when she embarrasses them in the media one too many times. She is told that she can have her birthright back when and if she finds a job. Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, repo man Arizona Gray (Miguel Sandoval) repossesses her car. In her attempt to get it back (she gives them ten seconds to return it: "Ten, nine, eight, three, two, four, six..."), Pixxie realizes that repossession is the career choice she has been looking for, and convinces Gray to give her a shot. However, she is too good at the job, and starts making all the other repo men look bad. So she is passed off to a second-string repo team led by Lola (Rosanna Arquette). Meanwhile, Pixxie becomes fixated on repossessing a mysterious train, which she is told it is a "ghost train;" an urban myth. Pixxie spots the train and tells Lola it's not a ghost at all, but is "made of flesh and blood, just like me!" Eventually she does get on board the train to find it is a vehicle for "crunchy" terrorists, who have kidnapped several senators and high-powered community figures (one played by Chloe Webb of SID AND NANCY). It is on a suicide mission and will be destroyed by missiles when it reaches Los Angeles if the United States government doesn't agree to turn vegan and criminalize golf! Do they succeed? Only your courageous, clueless LA Repo Chick knows for sure.

As stated up front, this is a green-screen movie with a cartoonish look. Some of the backgrounds are created digitally, as obvious flat pieces of art (mostly the driving scenes). But for the most part, they are pretty detailed models of the kind you find in really nice electric train dsiplays. The movie makes no attempt to hide the fact that they are models, and in fact seems to revel in it. The opening title sequence is a montage of these models, shot low as if they are supposed to be real places; like typical Hollywood miniatures. You can tell they are models, but only slightly, and you are not quite sure at first if they are supposed to actually stand in for real locations. But their true nature becomes increasingly obvious as the scene progresses, and, before the title sequence is done, the viewer knows that he or she is in a playfully surreal landscape.

The only scenes which are not handled this way (green-screen action matted in over artificial locations) are the scenes of the government controllers, which are shot the normal way: ie., real actors in a solid, real location. They do their plotting over a tabletop model train world. These scenes are also in black and white to give them even more contrast (and perhaps also to indicate how these manipulators view reality) to the rest of the film. And it is in this contrast that we understand why Cox chose to shoot his movie in the Digital Domain. A conversation near the end of the film brings it sharply into focus. Pixxie: "Do you ever experience the feeling that you might be just a tiny little simulacrum or an avatar created by a mad scientist as part of a table top experiment?" Arizona Gray: "Sure, I have that feeling from time to time."

While not as edgy, surprising or funny as the original REPO MAN, it's good to see Alex Cox in the driver's seat again,and still doing things his own way. All in all, REPO CHICK is an entertaining, colorful and interesting way to spend ninety minutes of your life.

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