[Movie Review] Payback

PaybackStarring: Mel Gibson, David Paymer, Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, William Devane, Lucy Liu, Kris Kristofferson
Director: Brian Helgeland
Genre: Action
Cert: 18
Released: 1999

Double-crossed criminal, Porter (Gibson – “What Women Want”, “The Patriot”, “Conspiracy Theory”, “Ransom”), left for dead by his partner, Val (Henry – “Star Trek: Insurrection”, “Raising Cain”), returns to claim back the $70,000 in loot that Val ‘stole’ from him. He manipulates his contacts and knowledge of the underworld to find Val, but discovers that the money is now in the hands of Carter (Devane) to whom Val has paid a debt. With Carter unwilling to return the money, Porter pushes the envelope and pisses off drug dealers, crooked cops and underworld leaders in a bid to get what is rightfully his.

Director, Helgeland (who directed the enjoyable “A Knights Tale” in 2001), has created a curious black action-comedy which has to gain viewer empathy despite the lack of a ‘good guy’. Gibson’s lead character is not a likable rogue. He’s a vicious and dangerous criminal whose tunnel-vision idea of revenge is somewhat indiscriminate. As far as Porter is aware, it is his money, and if you want to stand in his way, you’ll end up on your back. Along the way he finds a rekindled romance with Rosie (Bello) and an amusing adversary in timid drug-dealer Arthur (Paymer – “Quiz Show”, “Mr Saturday Night”, “Crazy People”). Also playing the comedy role, but more painfully, is Lucy Liu (TVs “Ally McBeal”). She plays dominatrix Pearl, who is responsible for administering almost as much pain as Porter.

While “Payback” fails overall, there are some aspects that are redeeming and subsequently brand it ‘watchable’. The violent humour is amusing, there are some tense moments and some unpredictable fallout, and the casting of relative unknowns and long-in-the-tooth TV movie veterans helps elevate Gibson and make you more sympathetic with his unsympathetic character. File this one under ‘interesting’, but don’t lose sleep if you miss it.


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