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
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.