One of the best things about Stranger Than Paradise is the total absence of yuppie characters, values and equipment from the screen. It is not easy to find such relief these days, but Jim Jarmusch is clear that he does not want to make movies "about people with career aspirations." As he says, "All my films will be about . . . people who are outside the career hustle. . . . You get money by cheating, by tricking, by chance--not by devoting your life to it." Repo Man, which teeters on the same generational cusp as Stranger Than Paradise, is yuppieless too, and that counts for a lot. The action here takes place around the automobile repossession business, which is certainly a hustle but hardly a career. A young dropout from the slam-dancing, Mohawk-haircut set (Emilio Estevez) stumbles into the repo scene by chance and soon is involved in a science fiction fantasy (aliens in the trunk of a '64 Chevy Malibu) that is stranger than Stranger.
Director Alex Cox is hip to some of the sme attitudes as Jarmusch, but he has not an ounce of control and precious few ideas. As a result, Repo Man is fun but not funny, amusing but not interesting. There's color and sex, and Cox fills his frames with the hot items of California consumerism, for the new wave in the Sun Belt is splashier than its analogue in the Northeast. But senselessness has to make sense in a movie, and others have conveyed the postsurfer punk mentality better than this. (See, for instance, Penelope Spheeris's weird Suburbia for the real thing.) Repo Man does have the last word about the California car culture. An aging, acid-besotted hippie explains to the new waver that he doesn't drive. The kid looks incredulous. "The more you drive," the hippie explains, "the less intelligent you are." That may go for filmmakers as well.