Payback (1991): Not Always A Bitch

Dave takes a look at two good ‘ol boys, never meaning no harm – until they graduate from the Dukes of Hazzard stunt team ranks and go solo on their debut movie.

Corey Michael Eubanks’ big break came when he was spotted in his local gym and catapulted into the business as a boxer in Jeremy Kagan’s very iffy sequel to The Sting (1973). From there he honed his craft as a professional stuntman in the yee-hawing company of The Dukes of Hazzard, which is where he met fellow swashbuckler Russell Solberg, who had already chalked up a host of thrill-seeking credits including the role of Trump apologist Jon Voight’s stunt double in the sublime Runaway Train (1985). The two became friends, and as the ‘90s rolled around PAYBACK fell into place. Eubanks scripted and took the lead role, and Solberg made a rare foray into the director’s chair. 

Eubanks is Clinton Jones who, we discover, is serving time for a drugs related misdemeanour, of which the specifics out in the final third. Sweating in the desert as part of a chain gang under the not-so-watchful eye of the guards gives Clinton the perfect opportunity to escape (in probably the easiest jailbreak in living memory) and pilfer a prison bus to get to a nearby hamlet. Once there, he befriends and seeks employment with kindly garage owner, Burt (Bert Remsen), and riles up the local jock (Vince Van Patten) when he becomes infatuated with his girlfriend, Christy (Teresa Blake). Alas, Clinton’s history of ill-repute eventually attracts the curiosity of her law enforcing father, Sheriff Pete (an underused but much appreciated Michael Ironside) — but all is not cut and dry between these feuding factions, as it transpires that both men can scratch each other’s backs in order to get what they want… 

Beginning with a handful of action set pieces that waste no time in establishing that this picture came from the minds of two successful stuntmen, the fender-bending carnage in Payback soon simmers down into a close-knit melodrama that utilises the familiar template of the newcomer from out-of-town. Those of you salivating for wall-to-wall action will be left wanting, but for anyone else, I defy you not to be seduced by the subtle charm of Clinton’s cute flirtation with Christy, or his burgeoning bond with old-timer Burt, in whom Remsen solidifies his position as the ‘90s champion of engaging old-timers.

Huge credit to Eubanks for fashioning a script that manages to tantalisingly tease its narcotic-based central thread via a series of one-way phone box conversations, before the inevitable payoff with ponytailed drug czar Don Swayze hits us in the last reel. Not only that, the experienced daredevil crafts a compelling character in Clinton Jones; wise-cracking, ass-kicking, and the archetypal outsider. Admittedly, the reunion of Eubanks and Solberg three years later in the fist-fighting epic Forced to Kill (1994) is a generally more polished affair, but this debut makes for a great undercard.

USA ● 1991 ● Action, Thriller ● 94mins

Corey Michael Eubanks, Michael Ironside, Bert Remsen, Teresa Blake ● Dir. Russell Solberg ● Wri. Corey Michael Eubanks

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