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‘Paydirt’ Review: Val Kilmer Lays Down the Law in Derivative Crime Thriller

Christian Sesma’s derivative crime drama offers modest diversion for undemanding genre aficionados.

Paydirt
Courtesy of Uncork'd Entertainment

Surely, it can’t be long before we see a new addition to “The Film Critic’s Lexicon,” in the chapter devoted to such shorthand similes as “feels like a Hallmark movie,” “resembles an after-school special” and that old standby, “Tarantinoesque.” Chances are very good there will be something on the order of “good enough for lockdown” or “quarantine time-killer,” used to describe the sort of unabashedly derivative and instantly disposable genre fare that might find an audience among undemanding genre enthusiasts in search of something new — anything new — to watch while homebound.

And when that label does indeed appear, don’t be surprised to see a production still from writer-director Christian Sesma’s “Paydirt” alongside it as illustration.

A thoroughly mediocre but sporadically diverting mashup of elements cribbed from the cinemas of Guy Ritchie, Steven Soderbergh and, yes, Quentin Tarantino, “Paydirt” is a crime drama with darkly comical touches that possibly will be enjoyed best while you’re periodically distracted by other things — microwaving leftovers, feeding pets, washing face masks — and are unable to constantly focus on arrant contrivances and gaping plot holes.

Sesma helpfully introduces his main characters by splashing onto the screen their generic labels — the Brit (Luke Goss), the Brains (Mike Hatton), the Brawn (Paul Sloan), etc. — so that you can follow the plot without bothering to learn their names. Granted, Sheriff William Tucker, the resolute lawman played by Val Kilmer, doesn’t get a “the Sheriff” intro. But that’s only because, well, when we first see him, he’s wearing a uniform.

Set in and around the Coachella Valley, “Paydirt” begins as the Brit — aka Damien Brooks — is arrested by Sheriff Tucker during a drug raid that, all things considered, turns out worse for Tucker, who leaves the force in disgrace because too many people died, and only a modest amount of marijuana was seized, during the incident.

For his part, Brooks spends only six years behind bars before walking back into a world where marijuana is legal, his beautiful parole officer (Mirtha Michelle) is astonishingly lenient — so lenient, in fact, that even the most inattentive viewers will be suspicious long before Brooks catches on — and the Brit’s former partners in crime are easily reassembled for a plan to retrieve the stashed-away $33 million they stole from a Mexican drug lord (Jay Montalvo). A drug lord, of course, who wants his ill-gotten gain returned to him.

Despite some flashy editing and sporadic wisecracking, “Paydirt” proceeds at a stately pace, even during a few set pieces — like a break-in at a DEA records warehouse — that usually are much more suspenseful in heist scenarios of this sort. Even so, lengthy stretches of the movie are tolerably entertaining, largely because of the seriocomic interplay among the well-cast members of Brooks’ gang, a disreputable bunch that includes the Babe (Murielle Telio) and the Badass (Veronika Bozeman), lovers who are hugely amused when they turn on any clueless guys in their orbit. And to give him fair credit: Sesma provides a genuinely clever hide-in-plain-sight payoff to the question of where that missing $33 million has been.

Top-billed Goss saunters through the proceedings with all the self-confidence you’d expect from a character who brazenly plots double- and triple-crosses, and an actor who’s credited as one of the film’s producers. Kilmer gives “Paydirt” much more than it ever gives him, but he has some nice moments whenever Tucker interrupts his extralegal surveillance of Brooks to converse with a new district attorney who just happens to be his daughter (played, in a bold stroke of casting, by Mercedes Kilmer, Val’s real-life offspring). The only trouble is, when the scene-setting words “Salton Sea, Ca.” appear during the opening minutes, you may find yourself expecting something as substantial as D.J. Caruso’s “The Salton Sea,” the criminally under-rated 2002 drama that showcased one of Kilmer’s finest performances. It doesn’t take long, alas, for those expectations to be dashed.

‘Paydirt’ Review: Val Kilmer Lays Down the Law in Derivative Crime Thriller

Reviewed online, Houston, Aug. 5, 2020. Running time: 85 MIN.

  • Production: An Uncork’d Entertainment release of an Octane Entertainment production, in association with Ton of Hats, Seskri Prods. Producers: Jack Campbell, Luke Goss, Mike Hatton, Christian Sesma. Executive producer: Gary Rubens.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Christian Sesma. Camera: Stefan Colson. Editor: Eric Potter. Music: Nima Fakhrara.
  • With: Luke Goss, Val Kilmer, Mike Hatton, Paul Sloan, Nick Vallelonga, Mercedes Kilmer, Mirtha Michelle.
  • Music By: