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Payoff (1991)

From director Stuart Cooper comes a film that represents another fine example of what could show up on the new release shelf of the local VHS store back at the time of it’s release. Films like this would immediately catch my eye once I checked out the credits listed on the box cover to see who was all involved. In this case it’s a trio of actors I’ve been following since my early years due to their participation in movies I was weened on. I’m referring to Keith Carradine, Harry Dean Stanton and John Saxon. The early movie memories would be Emperor of the North with Carradine, Cool Hand Luke with Harry and his guitar and with Saxon it would have to be Planet Earth.

Payoff is a tale of revenge. One in which Carradine as a child is witness to his parents being killed in a mob retaliation. His father was a police officer making trouble for the mob which led to his assassination. Here we are years later with Keith living life as it comes. He resides on a boat and drives a limo to keep busy. It’s while driving a fare that he will see Saxon and memories come flooding back to him of his parents murder. Saxon was there and Keith is about to turn vigilante.

Yeah it’s a major plot hole. Saxon is a fairly well known mafioso so surely Carradine would have seen him somehow or somewhere over the previous twenty years since the murders.

Ah, whatever. Rather than put a bullet into Saxon, Carradine decides to make his life a living hell by taking down his operation and by extension, Saxon’s father-in-law who acts as the Godfather, Jeff Corey. Not only does Keith steal some money out of Saxon’s office but he finds a cache of sex tapes with Saxon and a male prostitute. Yeah that’s embarrassing for the one time Bruce Lee co-star so he calls in a supreme scene stealer in Harry Dean Stanton. Harry proves to be the film’s highlight in a role as a hitman I wish had been expanded.

While Harry is torturing Carradine’s pal Robert Harper for details on his whereabouts, Keith is off to Lake Tahoe to continue his assault on Saxon’s operation. Meaning a casino the family operates. It’s here that Carradine will also get the opportunity to romance his leading lady Kim Griest who might be more than just the casino banker she appears to be. Carradine gets a job in the casino and up till now the script moved at a steady pace but around the half way point of this 110 minute film things get a bit plot heavy.

There’s just too much going on between Carradine and his partners which now includes Stanton alongside Harper. No Harry isn’t to be trusted but he makes the most of his screen time with a swagger and a bit of ham. Saxon is on the outs with Corey and has a son played by Lawrence Monoson who also figures prominently in the final stanza. Keith is running more of a “sting” operation as opposed to an outright copy of Death Wish as the film comes to a satisfying conclusion.

While this might be labeled as a TV movie it’s not one that would have played as a network television premier. It’s a Showtime release. A little too violent for the networks and with Saxon’s S&M tape, I can’t see this one as the Sunday Night ABC Movie of the Week. During a love making scene between Keith and Kim I couldn’t help but notice the great pains taken to ensure there were no “nip slips” caught on camera during the rolling and writhing on the bed. It was almost successful. Keith get’s caught topless during the final frenzy.

Filmed on location in Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and British Columbia there is some nice scenery around the leading players but truthfully the film needed to be shaved of about fifteen minutes. That shouldn’t include an amusing scene involving Stanton that scored him a credit on the soundtrack. All because he hums a few bars of the song, Billy Don’t Be a Hero as he torments Harper. Too bad Harry didn’t have a guitar handy, he could have given us the whole song.

Did anyone recognize the director’s name? Stuart Cooper. Think on that for a minute. No I didn’t expect you’d come up with anything and that’s alright. He’s in my all time favorite movie and a bona fide member of The Dirty Dozen. At the time of it’s production the Dozen consisted of 6 “names” and 6 lesser ones. Cooper was in the latter but a member just the same. Of the secondary 6 actors only one become a “name” and he has forever pointed to the Dozen’s director Robert Aldrich as the man who kick started his career for handing him a plum scene in the film. I’m off topic here but care to take a guess who the actor was?

Payoff might be hard to locate if you’re looking to score a copy. I only have it thanks to a dusty VHS tape I found in a goodwill store. Had to have it. Maybe Laserdisc is more your style?

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