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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> February 1999 >> Payback


Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
3 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
February 1999
IMDB Name:
Payback (1999)
Brian Helgeland
action, crime
MPAA Rating:
R for strong violence, language, and drug and sexual content.


Co-writer and director Brian Helgeland has made much of making a movie with a theoretically unlikable hero. He doesn't quite succeed. While Mel Gibson's Porter works hard to make sure we know he's a crook, he doesn't come across as all that mean. Fairfax, the James Coburn character at one point even says "That's just mean!" I still didn't quite buy it.

Much has been said about the disagreements between Helgeland and Gibson that caused the former's dismissal from the production. Supposedly, it was Helgeland's insistence on the unlikable hero that irked Gibson, who suspected that audiences couldn't handle a truly despicable protagonist. Unfortunately, the scene that I suspect caused the rift is one that I would have to agree with Helgeland on. There is one scene in the movie that feels immediately out of place in tone, writing, and appearance. It feels like an afterthought. Can't win 'em all.

Not Ling!

As a fan of the TV series "Ally McBeal", I was eager to seen what Lucy Liu's character would be like. The difference was hilarious. The character is funny as she exists in the movie, but the contrast with Ling was too much. I don't want to spoil it for the Ally fans who haven't seen the movie yet, but this performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Smoking Death

There are definitely two things in abundance in the movie: cigarettes and murder. The two are occasionally combined in funny ways, one of which is given away in the trailer. The murders aren't filmed with the creative visual flair of a John Woo, but some of the moves are similarly stylish. The movie has two memorable explosions, neither of which is particularly astonishing, but the lead in makes them interesting.


All told, the movie made good Friday-night fare. It doesn't tax much, but is respectable. There were a few scenes which were unnecessarily sappy and formulaic, but the pacing is otherwise nice. I don't think I'll ever feel the need to see it again, but it's fine once.

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Copyright 1999-2003 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.