johnlink ranks PAYBACK (1999)

I was a high school student to wrap up the 20th century. I was a high school student with a sister who managed a movie theater. I was a high school student with a love for movies. I was a high school student who saw a LOT of movies. I was a high school student who also saw a lot of BAD movies. Somehow, though, I never got around to seeing PAYBACK. In 1999, Mel Gibson was not only crazy, he was a huge star. So the thought that he might have mad a bad movie initially kept me away, because I didn’t want to… I don’t know… tarnish my thought of his other movies. Or something. High school students can be dumb. Or maybe that was just THIS high school student who was dumb. Anyway, I finally saw PAYBACK.


I watched PAYBACK (1999) on 5.1.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

PAYBACK is a movie which doesn’t have any idea what it is. There is no surprise, then, that Director Brian Helgeland ended up off of the film and roughly a third of it was reshot. There is a crazy, disjointed feeling to the whole thing. First it is dark, brooding, and very neo-noir. Soon, it becomes brutally violent. Later, it devolves into a sort of action-comedy piece completely separated from where it started.

Mel Gibson plays Donald Westlake’s Porter. He is the kind of their who steals money out of the hat of a homeless person and who pretends to have honor because he wants $70,000 back which was stolen from him by his ex-partner and his ex-wfe (Gregg Henry and Deborah Kara Unger). This story had a far superior version of it made back in 1967 with Lee Marvin in the lead role. It was called POINT BLANK, and it was a really well told story.

This movie, PAYBACK, is not well told. Mel Gibson tries for a bit, and then he sort of mails it in. Maria Bello, in the role of hooker with a heart of gold, doesn’t get asked to do much. The villain changes throughout the film in a way which was clearly never really intended by the script. Rather than feeling like the big bad guy at the top of the chain is inevitable, PAYBACK starts out by treating him like a side thought who later becomes important anyway (and is played by Kris Kristofferson who is probably the best part of the film). At times William Devane is the big bad. At times it is the ex-partner. For a bit it seems like it might be James Coburn. None of it matters, though, because the ending is laughingly improbable (and anti-climatic to boot).

Mel Gibson was on a pretty good run in the late 90s. PAYBACK does not fall on that side of the ledger. His Porter isn’t likable for the first act before suddenly becoming the typical Gibson ‘funny guy’. He almost feels like two different characters, neither of which is particularly memorable or deserving of a movie. That is too bad, really, because the characters of Westlake’s novels deserve a lot better than this. And they deserve better than cliched bad guys and cliched cops chasing around our ‘hero’.

Apparently there was a Director’s Cut made in the mid 2000s which fixed the movie and got rid of the painful blue tint which washes over everything. I’d like to say I’d give that a shot. But I’m not sure that even half of this movie got the tone right to make me want to watch a movie which is merely a third different. No, for this one, I think it would be better to just tear it down and start over.

Or, better yet, just go watch POINT BLANK. They already did this story well once half a century ago.




FINAL SCORE: 3.25 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on May 3, 2015.

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