Walker Payne Movie Review

A fan of the film Walker Payne said she found it surprising, since everything about it seemed so different than what you'd expect from its director and co-writer Matt Williams, a TV scribbler who wrote for The Cosby Show and Roseanne before committing the crime of creating Home Improvement. On the surface of it, you'd think she was right, after all, the film is a hardscrabble period drama set in a small mining town, where the main character is forced into difficult circumstances in order to get his kids back from his harpy of a divorced wife. Although the subject matter might seem grimmer than Williams' standard TV fare - excepting perhaps Roseanne, which had its darker moments - it's unfortunately really just a shaggy dog story about a loveable loser who gets in over his head. At least there's an actual dog of not inconsiderable charisma.

The dog in question belongs to the titular Walker Payne (Jason Patric), who's the resident rogue of his little Illinois burg. Laid off from the coal mine at the film's opening, Walker kicks about for some other way of getting by, biding his time in the local watering hole, racking up more notches on his bedpost, and generally charming the pants off everyone - with the exception of the ex-wife (Drea de Matteo), who hates him with a near volcanic passion. Williams was smart enough to give such so much of the film over Patric, a generally underused performer who can slip into moroseness if not nudged out of his corner. The early stretches of the film are concerned with little else but Walker and his dog as they scrounge about town, and it's actually not half bad considering how little is going on. But then the plot starts to kick in, along with the problems.

Walker's wife won't allow him to see his kids, an adorable pair of towheaded girls, and gives him an ultimatum: She wants to get out of their nowhere town and go to nursing school - $5,000 should cover it - and then he can have the girls. It's highway robbery, of course, but what can a fella do? Just in the nick of time, as these things tend to happen, Mephistopheles appears in the guise of Syrus (Sam Shepard), an itinerant gambler/grifter type wearing sharp suits and driving a snazzy Cadillac. Syrus takes a liking to Walker's dog, letting drop the idea that such an animal could do just fine in some dog vs. dog contests wherein wagers are placed by sporting gentlemen who prefer such things go unnoticed by the law. With a big lifetime of nothing staring him in the face otherwise (not a lot of other employment opportunities but for the mine), Walker seems sure to crumble in the face of Syrus' slick salesmanship.

So there's your story: Basically decent guy forced into a corner by circumstances (mostly) beyond his control. Given that Patric pulls off a surprisingly mellow and likeable acting job here, and Shepard is willing to ham it up as much as possible to liven up the proceedings (going so far as to sing a couple not-half-bad old folk songs), Walker Payne had some definite possibilities. But Williams' instincts are strictly melodramatic, with its scrubbed-clean rural setting and every single plot twist - especially Walker's romantic interest, a sassy bank teller from Chicago who wants him on the straight and narrow - coming from right off the shelf. But again, at least the dog's cute.

Aka Walker. Reviewed at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.

Just keep on walkin'.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : , Dete Meserve


Comments

Walker Payne Rating

" Grim "

Rating: NR, 2006

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