Movie Review ~ Paydirt

The Facts

Synopsis: A parolee teams up with his old crew determined to find a buried bag of cash stolen five years ago from a DEA bust gone bad, while being tracked by a retired Sheriff.

Stars: Luke Goss, Val Kilmer, Mike Hatton, Mercedes Kilmer, Paul Sloan, Mirtha Michelle, Veronika Bozeman, Murielle Telio, Nick Vallelonga

Director: Christian Sesma

Rated: R

Running Length: 81 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  When is a movie not a movie?  I found myself asking that question quite a lot throughout the 80 l-o-n-g minutes that constituted the running length of the new crime thriller Paydirt because there’s so little there there that I almost wondered what anyone thought they were doing while filming was going on.  I mean, it’s clear the actors were enjoying the sun-drenched location shooting throughout California in those pre-COVID days and I’ll admit to some Midwestern landlocked jealousy at the lovely sights captured.  In that respect, writer/director Christian Sesma earns a small dose of horn toots for making the film visually pleasing even though nearly everything else about it is uniformly terrible.

When I say uniformly terrible, I mean it literally because in the opening shot we see supposed police officers in hilariously ill-fitting attire that look straight up from Costume Rentals-R-Us.  They’re there to make a bust initiated by Sheriff Tucker (Val Kilmer, The Snowman) acting on a tip in hopes of making a large drug bust and taking down Damien Brooks aka The Brit (Luke Goss, Blade II) at the same time.  When the strike goes awry and cops end up dead, Tucker is disgraced and Brooks heads to jail for five years.  Jumping forward in time to Brooks getting released, he is watched over by a pretty parole officer (Mirtha Michelle, Fast & Furious) while simultaneously trying to gather members of his gang back together and find a stash of cash that belonged to a drug kingpin…who’s also interested in finding it now that Brooks is a free man.

All of this has the makings of your standard crime caper and that’s totally fine, I’d definitely watch a movie like that.  The trouble with Paydirt is that Sesma’s script is so devoid of any interesting characters or fresh developments on the traditional formula that it winds up being an hour and a half you’ll spend wondering why you didn’t just give Oceans 11 another watch.  It wastes potentially cleverly arranged criss-crosses in favor of being so straight-forward they might as well show the final scene at the beginning and spare you the trouble.  If that wasn’t bad enough, audiences have to sit through several awkward scenes between Kilmer and his real-life daughter Mercedes (who earns an “introducing” credit via nepotism and nepotism alone) that have zero bearing on anything else in the film.  Coming off more like rehearsal exercises that would have been included as DVD extras back in the day, these father-daughter scenes are really something to behold.

You want more about the plot?  Well, it’s so convoluted that I don’t think I could tell you what the movie ultimately was about or who wound up being the good guys and gals.  The winding roads Sesma sends us on are handled with such ham-fisted contrivances that at a certain point I’d imagine viewers will either give up or, if you’re like me and required to finish what you started, simply hunker down and get through it.  If you stick with it, you’ll have to soldier through Sesma’s insistence on pushing forward with aggravating characters like Mike Hatton’s The Brain, a nebbish schmuck that’s always the source of trouble for the gang, Paul Sloan as The Brawn who seems to only be around to give The Brain someone to play off of, and Nick Vallelonga playing The Don, a casino manager that gives Brooks a job that makes his parole officer happy.  Strangely, all three men were involved with Green Book in one way or another, with Vallelonga taking home two Oscars – one for screenplay and the other for producing the film!

The only characters I was the least bit interested in were The Babe (Murielle Telio, The Nice Guys) and The Badass (Veronika Bozeman) because not only did the actresses exhibit chemistry with each other and anyone they came in contact with but I found myself imagining how much better a movie centered on them would have been.  They definitely seem to have more of a commanding presence than leading man Goss who appears at times to have just been woken up to say his few lines before dozing back off to dreamland.  He looks like the audience feels: bored.  It’s hard to say anything negative about Kilmer at this stage, the actor filmed his role while recovering from throat cancer which led to his dialogue being dubbed in post-production…and not very well.  To know the kind of movies/roles Kilmer came from and now seeing him in dreck like this is sad indeed.

Paydirt is the movie equivalent of a speedbump you hit going 90 on a deserted highway, quickly runover and quickly forgotten.  Aside from the two performances mentioned and a rather funky on brand end credits song by local Coachella band Giselle Woo & The Night Owls, this is as skippable a film as I’ve seen in a long time.  Everyone here has been in a better movie and will (hopefully, fingers crossed) be in a better one down the line.

Movie Review ~ Deep Blue Sea 3

The Facts

Synopsis: Studying the effects of climate change off the coast of Mozambique, a marine biologist and her team confront three genetically enhanced bull sharks.

Stars: Tania Raymonde, Nathaniel Buzolic, Emerson Brooks, Bren Foster, Reina Aoi, Alex Bhat

Director: John Pogue

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  For many, the summer of 1999 will be remembered for films like The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, Runaway Bride, and The Thomas Crown Affair.  Or maybe you heard of that reboot of The Mummy that gave Brendan Fraser a brief shot at true A-List stardom or that big-budget remake of The Haunting that sent audiences laughing instead of shrieking into the night?  It’s good to also remember that Deep Blue Sea was another strong performer that summer, surpassing expectations and mixed reviews to provide a solid return on investment and going on to have a healthy life on video.  I know I saw it five times in theaters that summer, twice in one day even!

I was surprised that it took so long for a sequel to surface and even more shocked that it was a direct to video release but was willing to give Deep Blue Sea 2 a try when it premiered back in 2018.  Yuck.  It was so bad I actually fast-forwarded through most of it and tried to get some joy out of the badly rendered shark effects which at times fared better than the live performances of the terrible actors.  All in all, it was a disaster and actually did some damage to the source property and that can be a pretty bad occurrence in the world of a franchise.  To my further amazement, a third film rose from the depths and brought with it a nice looking poster and a preview that appeared to show promise.  Yet I’ve been burned by good marketing before.  Still, you know I love a good shark movie, so even though DBS2 was a complete and utter piece of stinky chum it was a given that I’d find my way to Deep Blue Sea 3.

It’s nice to report that your critical lifeguard on duty has given the all-clear for you to take a dive into the Deep Blue Sea threequel waters because this is the kind of follow-up that feels more in line with what the original was going for.  It’s still no where near as entertaining or professionally put together as that effort with its bigger budget and larger production crew but new director John Pogue (The Quiet Ones) brings a renewed creative energy to the series that rinses out the bad taste the previous one had left.

Marine biologist Dr. Emma Collins (Tania Raymonde, Texas Chainsaw 3D) and her skeleton crew are studying the effects of climate change in an abandoned fishing village island off the coast of Africa.  The island, Little Happy, is sinking slowly back into the sea and has but two residents left who continue their lives while Emma and her team use their advances in technology to pinpoint why Great White shark numbers are dwindling.  Directly below the island, Emma has found a shark nursery that attracts various species including the Great White.  Emma films these encounters for her blog and followers back on the mainland, much the worry of new arrival Eugene Shaw (Emerson Brooks, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), an old friend of her late father’s that’s arrived to lend underwater skill to the study.  She’s even gone so far as to make nice with Sally, a Great White shark that returns regularly but prefers fish to humans…for now.

Seemingly out of the blue, her former flame Richard (Nathaniel Buzolic, Hacksaw Ridge) arrives at the island with his own set of toys to play with.  This isn’t a random visit though because we’ve already met Richard earlier in the film.  We know he’s there to track down three rogue genetically enhanced bull sharks that went missing at the end of DBS2 and whose mother he recently caught.  Flanked by muscle man Lucas (Bren Foster), Richard hopes to use Emma’s tracking system and staff to locate the sharks before their valuable property swim too far out of range and get close enough to civilization that the public starts asking questions.  The small island soon becomes a death trap once Richard and Lucas reveal their end game to Emma as the sharks close in on a signal designed to attract them.

While a marked improvement over the last film, I still moan over the lack of creativity ultimately in all of these creature features through past decades.  At some point, a decision seems to have been made that there had to be a secondary human villain in all of these movies and that’s what winds up sinking most efforts faster than anything else.  Hammy acting and unbelievable plot mechanics make these land lubbers a real drag and you just want the action to get back to whatever nasty monster is snacking on the nubile teens and old widows around town.  The same schlocky villains exist in DBS3 but thankfully screenwriter Dirk Blackman (a name I swore was a pseudonym until I verified it was real) keeps them on the periphery as much as possible and devotes a good chunk of the film to shark action.  It does take a decent amount of time for the pace to really pick up but when it does, in the final 45 minutes or so, the tension is kept on high for the duration.  It all culminates in one of the most satisfying finales I’ve seen in one of these movies in quite some time…effects and cinematography are stellar in delivering an ending everyone should be quite proud of.

Performances are really beside the point but after the debacle of DBS2 at least the cast of DBS3 are able to string phrases together and make them sound like human beings are speaking.  Raymonde takes her shark talk very very seriously and doesn’t leave a lot of room for humor…but then again so did Saffron Burrows in the first movie and look how well that turned out for her.  It’s an approach that works and, chilly though it might be, is a choice that is at least committed to and stuck with.  I only wish the other two females in the film, a tech wiz and the wife of a fisherman weren’t reduced to shrieking bystanders when the going gets tough.  Buzolic and Foster could honestly have been interchangeable, though Foster seems to enjoy playing the extra mean scenes a little more and has a nice fight scene with Brooks that’s well executed.

I found this to be a perfectly fun, respectably decent third entry in the Deep Blue Sea franchise and a sign that Warner Brothers is invested in moving the series in a better direction. For once, maybe a studio listened to the fans that were so disappointed in the sequel to a popular favorite and course-corrected on their next attempt.  If this is the creative depths to where Deep Blue Sea could go, I say let’s go for four and see what other smart sharks are swimming around out there.