Well, Moriarity was the first to come back from a mission I sent some 150+ spies on last night. Just moments ago he sent in the first report on PAYBACK. You might be familiar with the project under it's former title Parker, which is a remake of POINT BLANK (the Lee Marvin one, not the Keanu one) Some 'very cool' people I know are DYING to see this film, fans of the original Parker books, and fans of L.A.Confidential. Well Brian Helgeland (the writer of L.A.Confidential) is the writer/director of PAYBACK. A film that I believe is scheduled for Summer release starring MEL GIBSON!!! Well looks like it's one hell of a mean Mel, but... heck here's Moriarty to tell it as it is. It's about 6 months away, maaaaaaaaannnnnnnnn, it's gonna be a loooooooong wait...
Greetings, Harry. Moriarity here.
As you know, I make my living as a master villain. Recently I decided to try my hand at weather control, having enjoyed my first glimpse of the AVENGERS trailer. If it's good enough for Connery, it's good enough for me. My first step in turning the seasons inside out was to see a screening of one of next summer's high profile pictures now. The film? PAYBACK.
Once again, my henchmen and I stormed the Paramount lot, kicking over the security kiosk and generally causing terror and confusion all around us. I was in a bit of a fistfighting, asskicking, take no shit kind of mood because PAYBACK is, after all, a remake of one of the great asskicking take no shit kind of films, POINT BLANK. For those of you sad enough to have never seen the original, it's one of the highlights of John Boorman's career and features one of Lee Marvin's best tough guy performances. In RESERVOIR DOGS, when Michael Madsen says to Harvey Keitel, "I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan," it's films like POINT BLANK he's talking about.
For that reason, I was highly sceptical going in. I figured there was no way Brian Helgeland could come anywhere near the mood and the brutality of the original. With the (very) notable exception of LA CONFIDENTIAL, I'm still fairly unimpressed by Helgeland. Or at least, I was.
PAYBACK changed that.
Now, this isn't going to make any "10 Best" lists next year, and it's not a deep movie by any means. Mel Gibson plays a guy named Porter (not Parker -- his name in the book), who is involved in a robbery with Gregg Henry (the blonde guy from all the DePalma movies) and Deborah Kara Unger (from CRASH and THE GAME). They double cross him, shoot him full of holes, and leave him for dead. Bad idea. Very, very bad idea.
The movie actually starts a few years after that incident as Porter rolls back into town. Just from the opening credits you know that this is not your average Mel Gibson role. He's a genuinely bad guy. He steals a handful of money from a homeless guy, lifts some businessman's wallet, stiffs a waitress for breakfast and steals her cigarettes to boot, buys a suit with a stolen credit card, goes shopping and pawns the watches he buys, gets a Magnum, and all of this is just while the credits are playing. He immediately searches out Unger, his wife. She's a junkie now, and takes the easy way out. Instead of telling him where his ex-partner is, she O.D.s. Her death is the last straw, and Porter sets out to extract very messy revenge on his partner and to get his half of the money, a mere $70,000. Even if he has to kill every single person in "The Outfit," he is determined to get the money back.
The story isn't the draw here. It's the vibe that Helgeland has managed to create. Much like LA CONFIDENTIAL, he paints a vivid portrait of sleaze and moral decay. This is the seediest studio picture I've seen since TO LIVE OR DIE IN LA. Even the theater floor feels stickier while watching this thing unfold. The supporting cast in uniformly excellent, all of them in on the gag. William Devane and James Coburn are the two bosses of The Outfit, and they both do bang-up jobs. Devane in particular is a scene stealer. Gregg Henry, who I've always liked in the DePalma films over the years (you all know him -- the guy whose house Craig Wasson is watching in BODY DOUBLE), gives a hell of a performance here. He's a total scumbag S&M freak, and his "love" scenes with Lucy Liu, a dynamite Asian actress who you WILL remember after this picture, are hysterical and raunchy and deeply sleazy. Henry deserves to start doing more work again based on his efforts here. David Paymer and Bill Dukes both show up and do good if not inspired work. The women in the film are, as is normally the case, given a little less to do, but both Unger and Maria Bello (from TV's ER) manage to register in their brief screen time. In a definite nod to the original POINT BLANK, Angie Dickinson even has a cameo, but I won't tell you where.
Helgeland isn't going to blow anyone's mind with his directorial hand, but it's a solid debut and he seems to know what he's doing. There's a shootout in an alley involving Porter and a Range Rover full of Asian thugs that is a hoot, and most of the casual brutality manages to elicit both laughs and groans, a skillful combination.
Now... Harry, I don't like to get up on a soapbox here, but I have to. You see, Paramount didn't listen to me the last time I sent you a review. When I saw THE TRUMAN SHOW, I knew it would be a hard sell. I tried to help them out by giving them a tag line -- "It's a whole lot of world for just one man" -- (a bit of dialogue from the movie, damn it) and by telling them what worked. Sell it as a drama. Don't be afraid of it. "From the director of DEAD POETS SOCIETY." How hard can it be?
I need to try again now. The best part of PAYBACK was the temp track score that they had in place. Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, was this a great temp track. It was made up of some of the best bits of '70s action/cop movie music -- a little TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3, a little DIRTY HARRY, a smidgen of BULLITT, and a heaping helping of the Beastie Boys, all stirred up together. Paramount, I have to beg you now... BUY THE DAMN MUSIC! EVERY DAMN NOTE OF IT! This is one of the great uses of film music that I've seen recently. Let it stand as a tribute to the music of guys like Lalo Schifrin. You can't improve on the mood of the film I saw. If you hire someone like James Horner or Alan Silvestri or David Arnold, you'll just get a pale imitation of what we heard tonight. Go ahead... spring for it. Quentin Tarantino liked the temp track stuff he used from COFFEY enough that he bought it and left it in JACKIE BROWN. Helgeland used this stuff for a reason -- IT WORKS! The track from DIRTY HARRY is so damn perfect that one of my henchmen actually came out of his seat, yelling from excitement.
This isn't going to be a crossover hit. Mel's too damn unlikeable. This is going to be a movie for guys who love movies about tough guys. Do the right thing... buy the temp track. Make this movie as cool for everyone as it was for us tonight.
Anyway, Harry, I'll get off my soapbox now. Paramount has heard my command. If they choose to ignore me, then they'll have to cope with a crime wave of unimaginable proportions. Moriarity WILL NOT BE REFUSED!.