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1999 - R - 111 Mins.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Producer: Bruce Davey, Mel Gibson
Written By: Brian Helgeland, Terry Hayes, Donald E. Westlake
Starring: Mel Gibson, Maria Bello, David Paymer, Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn
Review by: John Ulmer
I don't think anyone will complain that "Payback" is not violent enough. Not only do men get beaten to a pulp, women do, too. There is a nitty-gritty feel to the film that does not go unnoticed. Even a dog gets shot - but the dog does not die, of course, because that would be showing something inhumane. Screw any human corpses that might (God help us!) appear on screen - dog corpses will send audiences fleeing!

With all the major advertising for this film, you probably know by now that Mel Gibson plays a bad guy in "Payback." He's never played an all-out bad guy like this before - his baddie in "Tequila Sunrise" was a nice bad guy, this guy is a bad bad guy with streaks of bad. In a world of evil people he is the one we root for because the film has been crafted that way, and because he is a one-man-army (we always feel sorry for the underdogs) - but if you put him in a room with Riggs and Murtaugh, his chances for applause from an audience would be significantly decreased.

Gibson plays Porter. "I don't know his first name, he's just always gone by Porter," a man says later in the film. Porter is a thief. As the credits role, he wakes up from a (wound-induced coma/injury/nap). In the first five minutes, he has stolen from a crippled Vietnam veteran, pickpocketed a man's wallet, stiffed a waitress, and used the said credit card to buy a nice fancy suit and dinner. Later, when his meal is over, a waiter informs him the credit card he is trying to pay with has been canceled. "Nonsense," Porter says. "Try it again." The waiter then leaves and so does Porter.

In his sadistic voice-over narration, Porter informs us, "Not many men know how much their lives are worth. I do. Seventy grand. That's how much they took from me, that's how much I was gonna get back." We find out that some time before his coma/nap, Porter had pulled off a heist - only to be pumped full of lead by his friend, Val (Gregg Henry), and his wife (Deborah Kara Ungar), who took the cash and ran.

Now Porter's back, and he wants his money. Not any less, and not any more. Porter doesn't want the money as much as he wants to teach people not to mess with him. As always, there is a love interest, and going with the dirty flow of the film, this love interest is a hooker named Rosie (Maria Bello). Porter used to drive Rosie, and we find out at a seemingly haphazard point in the film that they shared a night of passion together.

The film is dreadfully a-typical, but Mel Gibson's sadistic lead performance makes it worth watching. He hisses and uses violence like a real screen villain, while at the same time he spews out harsh (and funny) one-liners with such comedic talent that it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

David Paymer and Bill Duke also have small roles as crooked cops (although I'm not sure if Paymer is a cop he hangs out with them). You may remember Bill Duke as Mac from "Predator," the Arnold Schwarzenegger film. He's a good co-star, if a bit repetitive, and David Paymer provides some comic relief.

Basically everyone dies in "Payback." Everyone except You-Know-Who and You-Know-Who's Girl. Oh, and The Dog (who I have a feeling will spawn a spin-off series of sequels named "Pawback"). During an hour and fifty minutes, six men are incinerated in fire, countless men are shot, and James Coburn's alligator skin suitcases get a bullet through them. And Mel does a great job of carrying the lead role in what would at first appear to be an action-star-crafted character. Take that, Willis.
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

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