by Jim Wunderle
Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Mel Gibson, Kris Kristofferson, William Devane
Considering the fact that I loved Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" ear scene and all it might be a bit of a surprise to find me describing a film as too "sadistic." But that's the only way to sum up "Payback."
Folks getting their toes hammered, couples punching each other while making love, nose rings being jerked from nostrils and junkies dying in bed ... it's all here in glorious, wide-screen living color in a movie that finds director Brian Helgeland trying to redefine, or at least stretch the envelope of, film noir.
The Coen brothers' "Fargo," and more recently Sam Raimi's "A Simple Plan," did a much better job of furthering the genre, and both did so with original screenplays, rather than trying to remake tried-and-true classics.
"Payback" is a reworking of the Donald E. Westlake (under the pen name Richard Stark) novel "The Hunter," which director John Boorman turned into the 1967 film "Point Blank."
Brian Helgeland whose credits to date include writing the screenplays for "976-EVIL," "Highway to Hell" and the truly hideous Sylvester Stallone vehicle "Assassins" wrote and directed this misguided remake and somehow got a few major stars attached.
Mel Gibson is a bona fide big box office draw and usually makes wise choices in accepting roles. He seems to be slipping lately, though. Also on hand, in rather brief appearances, are veterans James Cobra, William Devane and Kris Kristofferson.
Gibson plays a professional crook named Porter who starts the film by helping one of his truly low-life acquaintances pull off a payroll heist that involves the Chinese Mafia.
His cohort, Val, is trying to buy his way back into "the outfit," and at the end of the heist turns on Porter, running off with all the money as well as Porter's wife. With two gunshots in the back and a couple of kicks to the head, Val and Mrs. Porter leave Porter for dead.
Of course he's not deceased, and after a rather gruesome visit to an amateur doctor, Porter is back on the streets, looking for Val and his share of the loot.
For the most part, "Payback" features little more than gratuitous violence, pedestrian dialogue and a storyline that seems to be reduced to a "lowest common denominator" mentality. If you really like Mel Gibson, as many of us do, "Payback" is worth a look for his performance.
That aside, you'd be better off seeking out John Boorman's original "Point Blank."
(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)
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