A sequel that seemed pretty improbable after the finale moments of The Debt Collector sees the return of both French (Scott Adkins) and Sue (Louis Mandylor). For those who have seen the original we know the fates of our duo were in deep trouble, but they were obviously able to escape with their lives and that is a great thing for the audience as Payback is a fun experience.
After skirting death our two debt collectors get back to doing what they do best – cracking skulls and breaking bones – as they chase down the various lowlifes who owe money to their boss, Tommy. Summoned to Las Vegas to collect from a dirty casino owner, who happens to be a vicious ex-lover of Sue’s. Meanwhile, a notorious drug kingpin is on the warpath to kill French and Sue to avenge his brother’s death. Facing danger from all angles, the pair has no other choice but to fight their way out of an explosively dangerous situation.
Jesse V. Johnson’s films have been roaming around under the radar for the past several years. Fans of films such as John Wick who have not caught one of his films have almost certainly been missing out on some great offerings. The former stuntman has been able to conjure up quite the active career in the director’s seat with 8 films released in 4 years.
His past roles have enabled him to know the best angles to place his camera to shoot his action scenes to look the most impactful for the audience. He is able to stage the fights to look and feel real, you don’t want to, but on occasion, you are feeling hit strike that connects and that is what you want from an action film, the intensity. Johnson is fast becoming an action director that should be helming bigger projects and it won’t be long before a larger studio takes him.
What helps the film is that it is just not a point to point action film. There is depth behind the fight scenes and dialogue. We spend a little time setting up the main story, having actors of the calibre of Adkins and Mandylor certainly helps to give the film a bit of breathing room to grow not only the plot but their own characters. This shows consistent growth from Johnson as a filmmaker. Sure he could have a fast-paced action film and it could lap up all the right attention, but taking the chance to let growth happen allows the entire piece to evolve. Action scenes are not cut to an inch of their lives like most modern action films. The camera is able to linger on the shot and allow a second or third movement before the cut. It is a simple technique, but subtle edits really change the dynamics of an action film.
This growth is shared with Johnsons writing collaborator Stu Small who is improving more and more as a writer for the action genre. His ability to write a natural dialogue between our two leads allows for no awkwardness that you would normally witness in films of a similar ilk. Their banter plays off very well. This, of course, is aided by the great chemistry Adkins and Mandylor have, but the writing is able to assist them greatly.
Adkins is of course known for his action prowess and rarely will a film offer him more of a chance to show his acting side than Payback does here. It seems that Small and Johnson have been able to work with Adkins to develop the character in a way that shows audiences what he can do as an actor. His confidence in this role, be it from working with Johnson so many times now or the fact that he was able to break out a little more shows that Adkins has been living under the radar a tad too much.
Mandylor, on the other hand, steals the film, much like he did in the first with the writing made to emphasis Sue more this time out. There are chunks of the film where Frenchie is not on screen and this allows Mandylor to shine. There have been many action-comedy duos in the history of film, but there will be fewer who can match the chemistry these two have together. Much has to be said that despite the action sequences in the film, the audience would really be sticking around for the dynamic of our two leads.
Ultimately Payback continues the further budding directing career of Johnson, and with the team, he has surrounded himself with a third in the series is a sure thing. A must watch for those who have been missing out on Johnson and Adkins work and proof that John Wick isn’t the only action franchise worth watching.
Action | USA, 2020 | 18 | 8th June 2020 (UK), 6th July 2020 (UK DVD) | Digital Download | Bleiberg Entertainment | Dir. Jesse V Johnson| Scott Adkins, Louis Mandylor, Vladimir Kulich