|Mr. Payback (1995; Interfilm)|
The concept of Mr. Payback was fairly simple, or rather, fairly stupid. Consoles are rigged up for each theatre seat and, during the film, queues for three options appear at given moments and the audience presses the button for the choice they want. Each press gives one point for that selected option, and when the timer runs out, the option with the most points wins and a scene for that option is played. Fun right? Well, it would be if the movie was entertaining. The reasoning behind the 30-minute run time was to warrant multiple viewings, but the film was poorly received, ultimately grossing less than a quarter of a million dollars, that it’s pretty obvious that those that sat through this one had no desire to go again.
Interfilm Technologies missed two very important things. First, movies are not meant to be interactive. The stories on screen are to be received by the audience while the visual elements are to be interpreted for whatever function they make to move the story forward or for whatever symbolism they attempt to create. The second big miss requires a brief look at another failed medium from the early 90’s: The FMV game.
Full Motion Video was a blight on video games in the early 90’s as a vast majority of these games were boring messes that failed at both being good interactive experiences and at telling any cohesive or interesting stories. The ultimate problem with this genre is the interaction was so limited as to not be fun at all. Thus is the big issue that plagued Mr. Payback, a failed cinematic attempt at making a big screen video game.
Now, the interactivity is not the only big issue with this movie. No. This film has some of the worst acting I have ever seen in a film. The nuanced performances in Eegah! stand triumphant over the bad, baaaad acting in this crap. I wish I were kidding about that previous sentence. It ranks among some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen in a film. The lead is played by Billy Warlock, who is mostly known for his roles in just about every soap opera ever. His performance is... UGH! Well... It is very, very bad. Other stars include Christopher Lloyd, Bruce McGill and voice actor Holly Fields. All performances range from utterly forgettable to traumatizingly painful and all of their scenes are really just a hodgepodge of disconnected set pieces and shallow setup.
Okay, a note on plot. There really isn’t one. See, that’s the problem when you make a movie based on a concept that requires you to account for many possible outcomes. You cannot create a cohesive plot that leads to a climax if just about every event, however pointless they may be, varies from viewing to viewing. Now, that said, this film did try to have a story, much in the way that meth tries to be good for you. Essentially, you have Payton Bach (Warlock),a bionic man who is getting back at random bad people who do bad things with the help of his love interest (Fields). It all basically amounts to a handful of loosely-interactive scenes where we see one of three unfunny things happen to a bad person then see some padding designed to fill out the time before the next interactive scene.
One huge misstep with Mr. Payback is none of the choices do (or even could for that matter) really alter the outcome of the movie. It still ends the same way, and everything in between seems like it is designed to distract the audience from how bad the acting is. Interactive movies failed. It was a novel attempt to do something different, but I cannot even give this film credit for that because it did it so badly. It is kind of like the Virtual Boy of movies. It comes out with self-aggrandizing fanfare about being the “future” of films and goes away faster than it came, ultimately becoming one of the most forgotten films of its decade. I have seen a lot of worst of the 90’s lists and very few even mention this film. Does that mean I am THAT much of a movie nerd? I doubt it. I just remember hating this movie when I watched a DVD bootleg of it about ten years ago that just played all the outcomes one after another, then moved on to the next scene. I have not, since, been able to find another version of it. When rewatching it I had to go back to various clips I found on the internet to piece together some sort of refresher from this disaster.
I call Mr. Payback my pick for the single worst movie of the 90’s for two reasons. It’s bad. Oh-ho it’s bad. That’s one. The second reason is it missed the point of what movies are about entirely. I never had the desire to make the men burning Charles Foster Kane’s things to turn back and discover Rosebud in the furnace. I never had the desire to stop Sonny from turning into that toll booth. I accept these events as movies are supposed to affect us, not the other way around. We absorb the events and then experience some sort of emotional response, that’s kind of how art works.
I honestly think that Mr. Payback is somewhat of a paradox, or at least a major fail. See, in its attempts to be more interactive it managed to push audiences further away, not just from the box office (it BOMBED), but from the characters. In 99% of video games there is a wall between you and the character on screen. You are controlling it and manipulating it, but rarely do you ever have an emotional connection with any of those characters. I would say this changed with Final Fantasy VII, but I still feel that wall. There’s a disconnect. This movie makes this disconnect its legacy. It forces the audience stand behind a theoretical field of apathy as they mindlessly attempt to leave some sort of impression on the film, ultimately leaving the theater unimpressed and un-impacted themselves. As games get more and more cinematic (Uncharted 3 for instance), I believe there may be a place for GAMES that are much more like movies, but that’s sort of moving in a different direction. Interfilm Technologies gambled and lost on this one, as they hoped that people would be able to forget what going to the movies is actually all about.