PAYBACK (1999) 
Mel Gibson
Maria Bello
James Coburn
Gregg Henry
William Devane
Kris Kristofferson
Lucy Alexis Lui
David Paymer
Deborah Unger
Bill Duke

Brian Helgeland


Time: 101 Minutes
Rating: R
Genre: Action/Crime

The marketing for this film is trying to get the audience to see Mel Gibson in a different light – this time he's the bad guy – but it really doesn't work. He may be a criminal, but watching Mel shoot people and get beat up is really nothing new. In fact, it's more of the same thing that's made him an international superstar. I can't imagine what made him choose this film as his follow-up to LETHAL WEAPON 4. Yes, it's somewhat better than that film, but he's basically playing Riggs without the badge. Though he's a professional robber, he's still a pretty decent, charming and kind-hearted guy. I was hoping for something a little different.

Which is not to say that PAYBACK is a bad film. It definitely has it's moments, though it is fairly predictable. Gibson plays Porter, a criminal who's double-crossed by an associate and left for dead, only to resurface months later, angry and looking for his share of the loot. It's only $70,000, but's it's Porter's money and he wants it back. Val (Henry) stole his share to pay off a debt to the "Syndicate" and buy his way back in. He never intended on sharing the money and used Porter's own wife, Lynn (Unger) against him. All Porter wants is his money and he'll stop at nothing to get it.

Along the way, he hooks back up with the woman he loves, Rosie (Bello), a high-class hooker who also works for the "Syndicate." She's glad that he's alive, but angry about the way things ended with them. Porter is looking for trouble and she wants no part of it. If she goes up against the Syndicate, she'll wind up dead. Fortunately for Porter, she can't resist him, and eventually tells him where he can find Val. She also finally discovers why he stopped working with her after they slept together. He just cared for her too much to share her with any other men.

Val is informed by one of his flunkies that Porter is alive, well and looking for his money, but he's fairly unconcerned. He's a member of the Syndicate now. Porter can't touch him, or so he believes. Breaking into the Syndicate hotel, Porter confronts Val, waking Val out of a deep sleep with his own gun pointed at his head. If Val doesn't deliver Porter's $70,000 to him tomorrow at noon, he's not going to live to see another day. Val tries to stall, there's no way he can get his hands on that kind of money so quickly. Porter lets Pearl (Lui), a professional dominatrix and "girlfriend" of Val's beat the point home. Tomorrow. Noon. Period.




"Crooked cops. Do they come in any other way? If I'd been just a little dumber, I could have joined the force myself."

Val goes to Carter (Devane), one of the leaders of the Syndicate, for help, but gets none. He created this mess and he'll just have to take care of it himself. Though Carter is impressed by Porter's ability to break into their stronghold and intrigued by his quest to regain such a measly sum of money. With no other option available, Val, with the help of Pearl, sets Porter up and almost gets him killed by a gang of very pissed off Chinese mobsters. But someone's looking out for Porter. Two very crooked cops to be exact. Once Porter gets his cash, he has to turn it over to them or they're going to book him for every crime they can think of that has anything to do with his life.

Slightly battered, Porter returns to Rosie's to regroup. She tries to convince him to just give up, but he won't hear of it and after a passionate moment leaves to finish this business. Unfortunately for Rosie, Val follows him and pays her a visit. The last time they met, Val – well-known for beating up his sex-partners – almost killed her. He's making up for lost time when Porter returns – he forgot his cigarettes – and gives Val a little of his own medicine. Porter finishes him off once he gets the information he needs – the names of the leaders in the Syndicate. He returns to his apartment with Rosie in tow, she's no longer safe in her own place, to find a hit out on his life in the form of a big bunch of dynamite attached to the phone. Porter has now become an important man...the Syndicate doesn't put out a hit on just anybody.

The final third of the film has Porter going against the various leaders of the organization, none of whom can believe he would go to this much trouble and through a boatload of pain to get back so little money. Though his actions made sense, none of them were surprising, especially how he dispatches, not only the crooked cops, but the Syndicate leaders. It seemed pretty obvious what he was up to to me. Some people might find this film clever, but only those who haven't seen many crime-caper, one-man against the world action movies before. I have, so I was a little bit bored.

There are many things that make this film worthwhile: the look, which was very stylized with some great camera work; Mel Gibson's charm, which depending on your gender is a plus or minus; the supporting cast, which did great work with very little, especially James Coburn and Lucy Liu; and the screenplay, which has some funny dialogue and touching moments. Unfortunately, it lacked cleverness and originality, two things that really hampered my enjoyment. I guess you can't have everything.

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