In early ’99, more than seven and a half years ago, everyone was talking about the studio version of Brian Helgeland‘s Payback — a remake of John Boorman‘s Point Blank as well as a re-adaptation of Donald Westlake‘s “Parker” novel — vs. the rumored Helgeland version that had been suppressed.
I distinctly remember asking then-Paramount publicist Jasmine Madatian at a Westwood screening about the “other” version of Payback at a screening and her telling me, “Jeffrey, what are you saying? There is no other version!”
Now comes a Harry Knowles review of an Austin screening of the Helgeland version, now being called Payback:Straight Up. Harry is calling it “a complete overhaul. No Kris Kristofferson, no kidnapped son sub-plot, no boxing match and no pulled punches.
“This [new version] is a mean sucker punch, gutter dirty, pissed-off piece of pulp art! Gibson is not ‘the likable superstar’ in this film. He beats the shit out of Deborah Kara Unger in this version. He is straight to the point, no cookie-cutter bullshit. This is the way a Parker novel by Donald Westlake should be handled.
“The film is leaner and meaner. There are no explosions and needless tacked on gore. This is brutal and hard-nosed. Oh, and immensely satisfying!!!
“Here’s the problem though. At this point, according to Helgeland at the screening, the film will most likely end up going to DVD in February or March – with a minor dump into a few theaters here or there. I completely get how this film from 7 years ago isn’t a big priority. It was a tiny, small budget film from a prior regime that did its business on DVD. And the investment in allowing Brian to finish this cut is also minuscule. I, also completely get that if you just hit this straight to DVD, you’ll make a killing, theoretically.
“However, Payback isn’t one of the great Mel Gibson movies in most people’s eyes. It was that Mel flick he did before Lethal Weapon 4. The one where he didn’t fight Jet Li. But to really get the audience’s attention, I think you’ve got to get this film back on to screens.
“This is a radically different film. Better music, better editing, better storytelling and just flat out a great film.
“I don’t expect Paramount to make it a big release. Frankly, I don’t think that would work. However, I really think handing the film over to Paramount Vantage could be an ideal way to treat this tiny crime film the way it ought to be treated, with a team that would help it in a limited release, that built upon the critical acclaim that this cut would receive by critics everywhere.”