Monday, February 5, 2007

Another Payback

I'm fairly excited by this weird little addition to the DVD release list:

Payback - The Director's Cut

There were always major problems with the original, despite Brian Hegeland's dark direction. I love Kris Kristofferson but you knew he was sleepwalking through his role. Mel Gibson on the other hand, managed to suppress his natural inclination to smirk through all of his post-Mad Max roles and deliver a performance that's not bad. It's certainly not all teeth-gritting intensity like Lee Marvin in Point Break but Gibson definitely had some insight into Parker's dead-eyed intensity (which could have come in handy when he got arrested not so long ago). And, let's face it, it has Maria Bello, Deborah Kara Unger and Lucy Liu in all their scenery-chewing glory. What's not to love?

Unfortunately, halfway through production the suits at Paramount freaked out and handed the entire piece to production designer John Myhre, who reshot a full third of the movie. I'm told the new version cuts Kristofferson's performance entirely, promises more savage violence, and sticks much closer to the uncompromising character inspired by the original Parker.

While I'm on the subject, why the hell does Hollywood insist on changing the names of all literary characters? For the few who are uninitiated into the wonderful world of Parker, the character was created by the gifted Donald E. Westlake, publishing under the pseudonym Richard Stark. "Parker" is as common as popcorn at the movies but the character has never been portrayed under his own singular name. Lee Marvin plays "Walter" in Point Blank, football player Jim Brown plays "McClain" in The Split, Robert Duvall operates as "Earl Macklin" in The Outfit and Peter Coyote is "Stone" in Slayground. Gibson, as we all know, is "Porter," which is close but no cigar.

I asked Westlake about this odd turn of events a few months ago when we were discussing the fact that the author's comedic oddjob artist John Dortmunder has been played by Robert Redford (in the original, The Hot Rock) as well as George C. Scott, Christopher Lambert and Martin Lawrence in films too questionable to be listed here.

"It’s not as bad as Parker, actually," Westlake said, chuckling. "The first time they used Lee Marvin in Point Blank, which is a great movie. George Segal is in The Outfit and that was well done. The football player Jim Brown is in The Split, which is not a wonderful movie. Then the third one happeened when Jean-Luc Godard took another one that had been published in France in which he turned Parker into a girl reporter played by Anna Karina (Made in U.S.A., 1966). An old friend of mine said, 'So far, Parker’s been played by a white man, a black man and a woman. I think the character lacks definition.'"

Here's hoping Brian Hegeland is able to inject a little more definition back into Parker's world.

Oh, by the way - Westlake's choice to play John Dortmunder? Harry Dean Stanton.