A not-quite sequel to the 1984 L.A. punk classic Repo Man, Alex Cox's Repo Chick is both an extreme formal experiment and a genre-mashing goof-off. Starring some of the same actors but none of the same characters, and still using the grungy edge-of-L.A. milieu as ground zero for apocalyptic panic, Cox's latest is a mix of digital and small-scale model animation, with live actors shot almost entirely in front of green screens. The result feels like a gonzo homemade comic book/conspiracy-crazed zine brought to life.
A stock-footage-heavy prologue sets the scene: The present-day financial crisis has turbocharged the repossession industry, and a pile of Cold War-era missiles has gone missing. These two seemingly disparate story strains will converge in the adventures of Pixxi De La Chasse (Jaclyn Jonet), a Hilton-esque heiress and professional dilettante permanently flanked by a trio of sycophantic club kids who video her every move for broadcast in "a really exclusive hotel in Dubai." Accused of behavior unbecoming to the De La Chasse name, Pixxi is disinherited and forced to get a real job.
When her ride is repossessed, Pixxi offers her services to repo dude Arizona Gray (Miguel Sandoval) and surprises all by turning out to have a unique savvy for separating debtors from their homes and vehicles. Swiftly adapted to her new life, but still longing for old luxuries, Pixxi sets her sights on the ultimate repo job: bringing in three long-lost antique locomotive cars for a million-dollar reward. That mission brings Pixxi into conflict with a crew of green terrorists (key goals: forced veganism, the banning of golf and—oh yeah—the annihilation of downtown L.A.), leading to a loosely plotted, train-bound standoff.
Written, directed and edited by Cox in 2009, Repo Chick debuted at the Venice Film Festival 16 months ago to mixed reviews, and has been basically MIA since. It's now being released by Industrial Entertainment to promote an early February Blu-ray release. It's a testament to Cox's unique brand of reference recycling and stylistic approach that Repo Chick's 2-year-old skewering of the zeitgeist doesn't feel dated. And while Pixxi is more like a Hilton than like the circa-2011 Kardashian celebutante model, it hardly matters: The cult trope of a smarter-than-she-looks megababe saving the day is more valuable than anything Cox has to say about princess culture, and Jonet expertly transitions from the wide-eyed victim of mock-the-rich kicks into the perpetrator.
While Repo Chick sat on the shelf, Cox spent much of 2010 preparing a restored and extended cut of his manic 1987 spaghetti Western, Straight to Hell, the last film he finished before the anti-imperialist parable Walker essentially killed off his mainstream filmmaking career. Available on DVD via Microcinema International, the new Straight to Hell is a classically gorgeous, languidly paced meditation on the slippery slope between sexual obsession and violent rage—pretty much in every conceivable way the polar opposite of Repo Chick's desktop-software, speed-of-the-Net sensibility.
The energy behind that sensibility does flag in Repo Chick's second half, as the pleasant shock of the movie's comic precision and scrappy-fantastic virtual reality starts to wear off. And if Cox is trying to make a cogent political argument, he's failed. His allusions to current-day corruption and political absurdity are too vague, and his satire is often flippant or friendly instead of cutting. Which is not to say that Repo Chick's humor is easy—in fact, Cox seems to take pleasure in setting up obvious jokes just to knock them down. Goofy-funny, fluffy yet sharp, for all its flaws Repo Chick is a midnight-movie blast.