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Mr. Payback crudely exploits theatrical gimmick

Mr. Payback

"The world's first interactive movie."

Written and directed by Bob Gale.

Starring Billy Warlock, Christopher Lloyd, Leslie Easterbrook, and your thumb.

Sony Copley Place; Interactive Theatre.

By Teresa Esser
Staff Reporter

The first thing you notice when you walk into Sony's new 76-seat interactive theater in the Copley Cinema is that the nine rows of gently sloping red-covered theater seats are arranged backwards. Instead of walking downhill to get to your specially equipped seat, you walk up. And there isn't a place to put your soda. Where most theater armrests have a wee bit of elbow room and a plastic bin to hold your drink, the new Sony Interactive theater has installed a three-button joystick.

Perhaps the strangest part about watching Mr. Payback was the fact that there was only one preview, and it was shown at the end of the movie. Instead of film clips and graphical reminders to stay quiet and eat neatly during the show, Mr. Payback was introduced by a team of white-suited hosts who encouraged audience members to speak, shout, whoop, holler, and generally behave as though they had grown up in a barn.

The concept of "majority rules" interactive theater may seem good on paper, but in reality this flick fell flat on its derriere. Because the audience was specifically told to shout and jump about, and because those who shouted and jammed their joystick buttons more often succeeded in controlling the course of the movie, Mr. Payback degenerated quickly into a shouting and button-pressing competition dominated by the most obnoxious members of the audience.

"Bike thief! Bike thief!" they shouted; then, "Burn the pants!" The buttons clicked wildly while audience members watched clicks tallied on the screen before them. (The three-option format was disturbingly similar to "Love Connection," except that the choices offered were generally different varieties of torture.) At the end of 30-odd seconds the "pants" faction had it, and so the bike thief bent over and Mr. Payback incinerated his behind.

It's hard to find a plot in Mr. Payback, although there is an ongoing sense of conflict. Character development is minimal; instead, viewers are introduced directly to their pawns. The hero, Mr. Payback (Billy Warlock), has been pre-decided, as has his love interest "hacker helpmate" Gwen (Holly Fields), whose blonde and voluptuous yet geeky character degenerated to Vanna White-style mindlessness in the ending seen by this reviewer.

"Join Mr. Payback as he seeks outrageous justice for his clients against those who did them wrong," the playbill states. "You and your friends choose what punishment to give the evil villains, in an exciting and unique movie going experience." Although the movie was clearly designed to allow audience members to participate in the torture and humiliation of the movie's obvious villains, it is never made clear what the politically-incorrect bad guys have done wrong.

In one version, the "racist" corporate fiend is accused of framing a black employee with cocaine charges and dismissing him from the firm. In another version the same villain is punished for sexually harassing a random co-worker.

"Don't piss me off," Mr. Payback says while forcing the hapless criminal to eat a pile of monkey brains "doggie style," from a gigantic yellow bowl.

"That was like watching pornography," one viewer complained after having subjected her preteen daughters to 20 minutes of Mr. Payback. The film is "definitely not for kids."

However, if the movie is not designed for eight-year-olds, it's hard to imagine who it is for. The vulgar language and video-game style interaction seem custom made for adolescents, from the "superheroes against evil authorities" storyline to Mr. Payback's personal "meter." (A sample reading: shoveling it heavy and thick.)

In the final analysis, Mr. Payback is a dumber and (much) less comical version of the blockbuster smash Dumb and Dumber. To be blunt, Mr. Payback is not worth seeing. Don't waste your time or your money fiddling around with Sony's new joysticks. Instead, wait for the next interactive motion picture about a bike race. It looks better.