In the Mojave Desert, a cop pulls over a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu driven by J. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris). He opens the trunk, there is a flash of light, and only his smoking boots are standing there. Otto Maddox (Emilio Estevez), a punk rocker, is fired from his job in a supermarket, and his girlfriend leaves him for his best friend. Broke and depressed, he wanders the Los Angeles streets until a man named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) offers him 25 dollars to drive a car out of the area.
Otto follows him to the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation, where he learns that the car was being repossessed. He refuses to become a Repo Man and goes to his burned-out hippie parents, only to find that they have given his graduation reward money to a televangelist. So, he becomes a Repo Man.
He repossesses a flashy red Cadillac and sees a girl named Leila (Olivia Barash) running down the street. He gives her a lift to her job at the United Fruitcake Outlet. She shows him pictures of aliens in the trunk of a Chevy Malibu. They are dangerously radioactive, she says. Helping Hand is offering a $20,000 bounty for the Malibu. This is so much money that everybody thinks it’s about drugs.
Parnell arrives in L.A. in the Malibu, but he can’t meet the aliens as arranged because of a team of government agents led by a woman with a metal hand. When Parnell pulls into a gas station, the Rodriguez Brothers, Lagarto (Del Zamora) and Napoleon (Eddie Velez), steal the Malibu. They stop for sodas and Otto’s punk friends steal the Malibu from the Rodriguez Brothers.
Parnell appears and tricks the punks into opening the trunk. One of them dies and the other runs away. Parnell picks up Otto, then collapses and dies from radiation exposure. After a convenience store shootout with the punks, Bud is wounded, and the punk Duke (Rick Dude) is dead. Otto takes the Malibu back to Helping Hand and leaves it in the lot. It is stolen from the lot and during the chase it begins to glow bright green.
Eventually, it comes back with Bud driving, but he is shot. Everyone shows up—Government Agents, UFO Scientists, and the Televangelist. Anyone who approaches the car bursts into flames, and flame retardant suits don’t help. The only one who can enter the car is Miller (Tracey Walter), an eccentric mechanic who knows aliens can travel through time in their spaceships. He gets behind the wheel with Otto beside him and the Malibu flies into space.
For some reason, Universal Studios thought this movie was not commercially viable. It was written and directed by Alex Cox—his first film—and produced by his fellow film-school graduates from UCLA, Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy, inspired by Cox’s real experiences as a Repo Man. The executive producer was Michael Nesmith of the Monkees. The nightclub band in the film was the Circle Jerks, and the soundtrack was partly by Iggy Pop. It received widespread acclaim and was called one of the best films of 1984. It is now, of course, a cult film. Other bands on the soundtrack are the Plugz, Black Flag, and Suicidal Tendencies. The musical score was created by Tito Larriva, Charlie Quintana, and Tony Marsico.
The film was nominated for two awards and received one from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films. Apparently, Harry Dean Stanton behaved like a crazy man during the whole production and Emilio Estevez walked around in his underwear most of the time. The car was simply coated with reflective paint to make it glow. The aliens in Leila’s pictures were played by condoms filled with water. It was sponsored by Xmas Tree Air Fresheners, which appeared in every car and on the motorcycle. During filming, the Chevy Malibu was actually stolen. The production scrambled to find another, and then the police found the first one, so they had two.
All the Repo Men were named after beers. The Rodriguez Brothers were modeled after the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers of Gilbert Sheldon. The Hard Rock Café appears on the screen. The Repo code is, “I shall not cause harm to any vehicle nor the personal contents thereof, nor, through inaction, let the vehicle or the personal contents thereof come to harm,” parodying Asimov’s laws. There are very few Ugly Aliens movies that are funny. Most films on the Ugly Aliens list are horrifying, nihilistic, or otherwise unpleasant in some way. This one is punk and fits right in.