Sunday, September 23, 2007

Payback: Straight Up.

Brian Helgeland | 2006 | 90 min | US

In this case 'Straight Up' is the lingo for 'Director's Cut.' Cool, hey? Director Brian Helgeland was fired from the original Payback project due to major disagreements with the studio during editing. Brought on to complete the theatrical cut was John Myhre: a man with no directing credits whose work as an art director made such films as Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael a smash hit. Naturally, when Payback was released in 1999 it fucking sucked.

This version is vastly different than the theatrical cut. When given the opportunity to usher his original vision into the light of day, Helgeland really did it up. Entire plot points are changed, characters survive who were done away with in the original, the colour correction has been altered, and an entirely new musical score was recorded for the release last year. Aside from the overall change in tone, most notable is the transformation of the ending. The original ending was so clumsy and laughable it was hard to believe it was ever written down let alone shot (for those of you who haven't seen it, the climax hinged upon a mob boss having a corded rotary phone in the back-seat of his limo). The Straight Up ending is considerably grittier and more low key, which isn't to say it's terribly remarkable, but it is far more in tune with the tone of a seventies revenge picture.

Payback is based on the same source material as Point Blank and shares the same plot. I'm not going to repeat it (you can look elsewhere on this very site). The new version clearly tries to be harder-edged and truer to the novel. It's opening is even a rip/ homage on the stunning hallway/ footsteps montage at the beginning of Point Blank. It's not a bad scene, but it immediately sets up just how far it falls from the quality of Point Blank.

Though this is a darker version, a good deal of residual humour is still in the mix. The light material seems to be kept in an effort to make the sporadic violence all the more shocking, but it really only makes obvious the conflicting directions the film was being tugged in. And aside from some gags in the opening scenes, the jokey stuff doesn't work at all.

Payback: Straight Up is decent. Vastly better than the original, but that really doesn't say much. It's still pretty soft considering it uses the same source material as Point Blank. There are far better crime films out there, but if you are hard up for options at the video store one night or if you have need to satisfy your curiosity after seeing the original Payback, I understand. Worth checking out for Level Six Film Nerds (and above).

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