Directed by Jesse V. Johnson
Having thought each other had died during their last job, partners in crime, Sue and French, decide to do one final job for their boss Tommy – a pickup of three substantial debts within 48 hours. Though initially hesitant, French decides to accept Tommy’s offer with a tasty payout setting him up for the future. Whilst simple on paper, the debt collection turns out not to be as straightforward as they’d have liked and, with two gangsters tailing them to ensure they don’t make off with the cash, the duo must deliver on time otherwise they’ll have to deal with the wrath of the true instigator of the job!
There’s never a dull moment in a film when it stars ass-kickin’ action star Scott Adkins and he is often the reason why I would watch a film that he’s in. His Taekwondo kicks are like poetry on screen and he certainly delivers the Bas Rutten-style bar brawls in the early scenes of action thriller PAYBACK. However, this is not the Scott Adkins show as most of these films normally are. Here, he rides shotgun to the mesmerising Louis Mandylor who plays over-the-hill, twice-deceased debt collector, Sue. The duo make an amazing partnership on-screen and reminded me very much of the dynamic between Johnny Utah and Pappas from Point Break, however the gap between Sue and French is much closer and Sue is handier with his fists and active on the front line of the job compared to Point Break‘s Pappas.
PAYBACK is actually a sequel to 2018 flick The Debt Collector, and is known as The Debt Collector 2 in other territories. Why the title has changed to Payback is beyond me as I assumed this was a solo film and only until I began penning this review did I find out it wasn’t. So, if, like me, you’ve never seen the first film, you needn’t worry. PAYBACK stands up strong as a standalone movie with the backstory neatly referenced and details filled in throughout the running time so that you needn’t have seen The Debt Collector to understand what is going on. Of course, watching The Debt Collector (it’s available on Netflix) will no doubt add meat to the bone and, judging from the trailer, also serves as an introduction to how Sue and French become partners in the first place so I’d say is definitely worth a watch if you intend to watch this.
What starts off as something relatively simple as collecting debts worth $500,000 in total becomes an obstacle when none of the three debtors wish to give up the money they owe that easily. Cue lots of fight scenes with Sue showing off his experienced boxing prowess, albeit a little less agile than he used to be in his prime, and French doing what he does best; kneeing, punching, kicking and slamming his way through opponents. It isn’t always one-sided though. Sue and French get smacked around a fair bit and for all French’s martial arts skills, he struggles to keep up with a twenty-something parkour nut who’s flying over walls and swivelling down poles like it’s some sort of climbing frame at the local park. The film even has, what I like to call, a They Live fight scene; a scene in it where the two main characters, who are friends, decide to beat the fuck out of each other for an extended amount of time. It is fun to watch and looks painful even if a little comical at times.
Something that I liked about the movie is that when one of these guys gets hit, they sport the wounds long after. When Sue is hit by a club, causing a wound to open up and trickle blood in front of his ear, we see that wound for the rest of the movie looking angry and bloody still. In many other movies, a character’s minor flesh injuries magically disappear in the next scene as though they have an amazing healing properties akin to that of a vampire. Their battle scars further hit home that Sue and French are not indestructible and their lives are genuinely at risk each time they collect a debt.
Though the film is action-packed, it doesn’t skimp on the drama and has some wonderful low-key moments that are heartfelt and craft these characters into real people. There’s also plenty of humour and banter between Sue and French, which makes them simply one of the best double acts I’ve seen on the screen in years.
PAYBACK is an intimate piece of cinematography in many ways, like we’re the backseat passenger on their travels. Every moment of the film oozes some type of layering or character building, from the discussions Sue and French have about their lives, loves and interests, to Sue wiping down his sweating brow with his handkerchief on the way to meet face-to-face with their debtors. This method of performance breathes life into these characters and had my attention solely focused and invested into what would happen to these individuals.
Action thrillers rarely have heart but this one is chock full of it. You could even call it an adrenaline-filled drama, and is one I can definitely recommend.
Dazzler Media presents Payback out now on Digital Download and DVD 6th July 2020