As any video clerk can attest, movies with the same -- or similar -- name can wreak havoc. Walking out of the preview of Repo Men, the Jude Law sci-fi thriller about the organ hijackers who repossess livers and hearts when their buyers are late on payments, a perplexed moviegoer tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Was I wrong to think this was a remake of that Emilio Estevez comedy?"
What a difference a vowel makes. Repo Men (2010) is hard-core gore sci-fi starring Law and Forest Whitaker, directed by Miguel Sapochnik from the sci-fi novel by Eric Garcia. Repo Man (1984) is a punk sci-fi comedy starring Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton, written and directed by Alex Cox. I love Cox's movie, one of the great all-time cult films, and its droll perspective on the way the future looked in 1984. Set in a Los Angeles where all products are generic, all authority is suspect and aliens may be hiding in the trunk of your car, Repo Man is about Otto (Estevez) and his career repossessing stolen automobiles. (Otto: Auto.)
I still crack up at the movie's visual jokes about the sinister implications of tree-shaped air fresheners. I still crack up at its anarchic characters given to dialogue like, "Let's go get sushi and not pay!" And I love the film's epiphany, delivered by the deadpan Tracey Walter: "The more you drive, the less intelligent you are." And who does not love the film's transcendent climax, with a 1964 Chevy Malibu ascending to the heavens? I remember seeing the movie with my colleague Vince Canby who asked, with a delighted grin, "Did you ever expect to see a fusion of Close Encounters and Used Cars?"
Other same-named movies with very different plots:
Crash (1996): David Cronenberg's film, based on the JG Ballard novel, about fetishists who experience sexual excitement from car accidents; and Crash (2005), Paul Haggis' Oscar-winning look at the clash of cultures in Los Angeles.
Monkey Business (1931): Marx Brothers slapstick aboard an oceanliner; Monkey Business (1952): Hilarious Howard Hawks comedy starring Cary Grant as a scientist who invents a youth serum and tests it on himself, much to the bemusement of his wife, Ginger Rogers.
Midnight (1939): Exquisite comedy with Claudette Colbert as a chorus-girl Cinderella posing as royalty; Midnight (1981): Genre movie about a runaway teen who tries to elude a sacrificial cult.