October: Parker Month; The Influence:
Payback: Straight Up Review
The next Parker film adaptation to examine is another version of The Hunter. This time Parker is Porter, played by Mel Gibson. This is one of the more recent adaptations of Stark’s novels. The original Payback was released in 1999 and the “Straight Up” director’s cut was released in 2006. I have only seen the director’s cut, because I heard it was one of the more faithful adaptations, and much more in line with the novel than the original Payback. It may stay more true, but it still has its flaws.
Director Brian Helgeland kept the usual story of Porter working a heist with Val Resnick (Gregg Henry). This time, they are stealing money from The Triad, when Val along with Porter’s wife, Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger), betray him and run off with the stolen money. Porter comes back to deliver some payback and get back what is his.
The story may be the same but the devil’s in the details. Point Blank was in the 60s, just like The Hunter. Payback is more modern –– though Helgeland tried to take out some of the more modern technology and give the film a very timeless look –– and for certain, the cinematography and costuming is excellent, and gives that look. But no matter what, it feels like a Mel Gibson movie from the 90s. Payback certainly tries to make Porter more likable, primarily by giving him a girlfriend and a dog, also named Porter. These two characters were unnecessary, but too deeply seated in the film (besides the dog) for Brian Helgeland to take out. Gibson cracks too many jokes and in no way surpasses Lee Marvin. He can be truly brutal sometimes and let his Parker out, but other times I don’t feel like the character of Porter is serious enough about his situation.
The two characters that shine are Val Resnick and Val’s daily psycho sadist prostitute working with the Triad, Pearl, who is played by a young Lucy Liu. Val is the manipulative overconfident jackass that I always imagined him to be, and every time he is on screen I want to punch him in the face. Luckily Val gets the most perfect and brutal death in the movie. Val also has a sado-masochist element to him, which brings in Pearl. Pearl is crazy violent, wild and just fun and funny. She sticks out as an anomaly from the rest of the film, but she is just so memorable that I can’t find myself disliking her character. Other characters like the two corrupt cops are completely useless and unnecessary, and the Triad’s later involvement is pointless. Having The Outfit’s leader Bronson, be played by a woman was interesting and I enjoy it, but she (personally) doesn’t have a big role in the film.
The film has 90s sleaze, which isn’t as good as the more potent 70s sleaze, but with Val Resnick and David Paymer as Arthur Stegman, the grit comes through. The world Porter inhabits is dark. There are lots of scenes in seedy alleyways and low-end parts of town, but the polished look, and sense of humor, can detract from this dark tone. Watch Payback: Straight Up if you are looking for a more modern take on Parker, but don’t expect a masterpiece of crime cinema.
Favorite Scene: The death of Val Resnick, certainly the most “Straight Up” moment of the movie.
Written by Tyler Ducheneaux
Images From: Payback and Payback: Straight Up