Repo Chick is the kind of high-concept lark that sounds fascinating in theory but dies onscreen. It’s a film giddy with ideas and outrage, a pop-art provocation so plugged into our crazy cultural zeitgeist, it already feels dated. (A subplot involving the mortgage crisis, in particular, feels ripped from yesterday’s headlines.) Fans of Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic Repo Man might be excited to learn that he’s made a deliberately cheap-looking, didactic, postmodern extended riff on celebrity, Paris Hilton, the recession, and globalization, and that it’s also sort of almost-not-really a Repo Man sequel. But now that he’s transformed a bunch of promising, funky ideas into a half-baked, borderline-incoherent mess, Repo Man devotees will probably wish the film had lived and died inside Cox’s colorful psyche.
In a non-star-making performance, Jaclyn Jonet stars as an actor-singer-designer-performance-artist-Paris-Hilton-surrogate who, in true celebutante fashion, does a bunch of glitzy, glamorous, girly things, none of them well. Her art form is being young, hot, and famous for no discernible reason, but she discovers a purpose beyond looking good when she falls in with a motley aggregation of repo men led by crusty Miguel Sandoval. Soon, she’s immersed in a kaleidoscopic underground world involving Communist revolutionaries, Growler missiles, a train held hostage, and attempts to criminalize golf.
Like Dogville by way of Southland Tales, Repo Chick foregrounds the artificiality and play-acting of cinema. Cox transforms his actors into cheap little dolls by having them deliver the script’s campy one-liners and furious screeds in front of deliberately cheap, unconvincing green-screen backdrops, using children’s toys as stand-ins for trains and other vehicles. Repo Chick is powered by Repo Man’s punky, irreverent spirit, but this time around, the effect is exhausting rather than energizing. Without a strong protagonist like Emilio Estevez, or a grounding figure like Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Chick devolves into arch camp and sledgehammer satire directed at the easiest targets, like lying politicians and hypocritical Bible-thumpers. Cox’s amateurish Chick doesn’t even feel like a real film so much as the kind of primitive, worrisome test footage that would scare less-ballsy filmmakers off pursuing a project this daringly awful and awfully daring forever.
Key features: A 27-minute making-of featurette.