Payback – 1 star

I’ve had the misfortune of watching this movie twice (I endured it because I remembered a better film).  Mel Gibson had his own cut, which was better than that of director Brian Helgeland (screenwriter for LA Confidential), though still pretty bad. The picture is a loose remake of John Boorman’s 1967 Lee Marvin vehicle Point Blank. The story is uncomplicated. A crook (Gibson) pulls of a heist, is double-crossed by his girlfriend and partner and left for dead. He does not die, but returns, to collect his share of the money. It turns out his partner used that share to buy his way back into “the Syndicate,” so Gibson works his way up the chain, killing folks up a higher level of authority until he gets to the top. The original was arty, tough and noir, and Marvin’s anger convincingly propelled the simplistic plot, which culminated in a cool shoot-out in then-abandoned Alcatraz.

Gibson’s version exchanges San Francisco for Chicago, tough for brutal, and noir for ostensibly hip (which, as defined by Gibson, is taking every opportunity to smack women and crunch bones). While Gibson throws in a touch of humor in the plot, his performance is leaden. He emulates Robocop and The Terminator, not Marvin.

Gibson’s version ends better (he uses a kidnap of the top Syndicate man’s son to get at him, while Helgeland settles for a lame shoot-out on a Chicago train platform), but it’s a pointless endeavor. The only redeeming qualities are some wry performances as criminal lowlifes by Gregg Henry, James Coburn, William Devane, John Glover, David Paymer and Lucy Liu.


It ain’t nearly enough.

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