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.

The Silver Bullet ~ Top Gun: Maverick

Synopsis: A follow-up to the 1986 hit brings back Naval Aviator Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and will deal with the rise of unmanned drones and pilots becoming a thing of the past.

Release Date: June 26, 2020

Thoughts: Has it really been 33 years since Tom Cruise cemented his rising superstar status with the blockbuster release of Top Gun?  Inspiring countless imitators (including Cruise himself) and launching a million slow dances to the Oscar-winning theme song, the movie is firmly in our cultural lexicon and holds up quite nicely.  So you could hear some groans across the U.S. of A. when it was announced Cruise would be returning in the long rumored sequel.  For someone with as good as track record as Cruise has with starring in successful non-franchise fare, why occupy his time between Mission: Impossible sequels with another sequel to a previous role?  Teaming with his Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski and looping in an excellent roster of supporting players, from the looks of this first trailer for Top Gun: Maverick Cruise clearly knew what he was doing and I’m sorry I doubted him in the first place.  This sneak peak at the high-flying action film releasing almost 12 months from now stirs the kind of nostalgic summer excitement within me that doesn’t get a jolt that often.  Fingers crossed it’s more than just a retread of the original.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Snowman

The Facts:

Synopsis: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Val Kilmer, James D’Arcy, J.K. Simmons

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: Whoa…it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a movie this bad from the get-go. Yes, The Snowman is unquestionably as terrible as you’ve heard it is and it’s likely going to wind up the worst movie released theatrically in 2017. That the film is even getting a wide release is a bit of a miracle and one has to give major chutzpah props to Universal Studios for daring to send out this not even half-baked lame thriller. What’s especially depressing is that so many talented (and Oscar-winning!) people were involved with this both in front of and behind the camera. Collectively, someone should be made to give back one of their Oscars and I’ll leave it to the group to decide who is going to part with their little gold man. A movie this incompetently made demands a sacrifice.

Based on Jo Nesbø’s international bestseller but evidentially substantially changed by the three screenwriters attributed to the script, The Snowman starts on the wrong foot and never recovers. Not that it attempts to, jumping right into introducing boozy Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave) in Oslo as he stumbles back to the police force after a drunken bender. There’s little in the way of character introduction of any kind, the movie just happens to find recognizable faces along the way and incorporates them into the story when convenient.

There’s Rebecca Ferguson (Life) as, I think, a visiting detective with a secret agenda that still takes on local cases, such as the one with the missing woman that unites her with Harry. This investigation leads them to a possible serial killer who, Ferguson hilariously concludes, is triggered “by the falling snow”. Possible suspects include a suspicious husband of the missing woman (James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas), a creepy doctor (David Denick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and wealthy land developer played by J.K. Simmons (Patriots Day). Simmons is just one of the cast sporting a disastrous British accent, though the entire action takes place in Norway. Are these all just a specific band of ex-pats with a killer in their midst? Nah, all the signs and newspapers are in English…even the police station features no Norwegian signage.

I’ve always said I couldn’t get enough of Chloë Sevigny (Lovelace) but she’s playing twins here and it turns out…one Sevigny is more than enough. Then there’s the mysterious case of the nearly unrecognizable Val Kilmer seen only in flashback as a detective in neighboring Bergen. Looking shockingly sickly (the actor recently survived a throat tumor) and clearly dubbed, his performance is off the rails and just another piece of a puzzle that is just not meant to fit together. I can’t even go there with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Samba) as Fassbender’s old girlfriend, especially after witnessing a clothed sex scene between the two that’s as awkwardly uncomfortable to watch as seeing a lab rat trying to mate with a St. Bernard.

Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has popped up in interviews saying that 15% of the script wound up not being filmed and that does not surprise me in the least. It at least explains how Oscar-winner and longtime Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker (Cape Fear) managed to piece together a movie that makes almost entirely no sense. There are no scene transitions or establishing shots so it is impossible to determine where the characters are in relation to not only the plot but each other. There’s one sequence cut so poorly that you think two actors are in the same room but are in fact miles away from each other. Ferguson’s hair changes color several times, about as many times as Fassbender’s hair gets longer then shorter from one moment to the next. While Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Into the Woods) captures some of the gloomier Norwegian vistas with a bit of flair, the visuals are weighed down heavily by the sterile production design from Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald (Oscar nominees themselves for The Imitation Game) that heavily favors latte colored IKEA furnishings.

A competent creative team has crafted a truly incompetent film here, even the finale is botched with the suggestion of a sequel so laughably inserted that your heart aches for the Universal Studios executive that must have pleaded for it to be incorporated just in case.  I’m usually not a fan of audiences talking during a movie but as the film progressed the chatter became louder and louder as everyone began to question what in the actual hell was going on. This is terrible filmmaking, an embarrassment for every single person above and below the line.  While it’s bound to be mentioned in the same breath as other Scandinavian-set thrillers, it not even fit to be included in the belch that follows that breath.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Snowman

Synopsis: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Release Date:  October 20, 2017

Thoughts: With the popularity of Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s series of novels following Detective Harry Hole (yikes, a most unfortunate name), it was merely a matter of time before the hardened investigator appeared onscreen.  I’m intrigued to see Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) signed on to what could be yet another lucrative franchise, lately he’s seemed to be making a lot of interesting indie choices.  What could have attracted him to such commercial fare?  Probably it’s the money but maybe there’s promise in this mystery which also stars Rebecca Ferguson (Life), J.K. Simmons (The Accountant), and Chloë Sevigny (Lovelace).  A big screen adaptation of Nesbø’s novel Headhunters made for fun fare a few years back and with these procedural serial killer flick on the decline, let’s hope The Snowman doesn’t melt at the box office.