[Screen It]


(1999) (Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Heavy Extreme Extreme Moderate Extreme
Mild None Moderate None Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Moderate Extreme Minor Moderate Extreme

Action/Adventure: After being double-crossed by his partner and wife, an understandably perturbed thief will do anything to get back the $70,000 they stole from him, including squaring off with the powerful criminal syndicate for which his former partner now works.
After successfully pulling off a $140,000 heist, lowlife thief Porter (MEL GIBSON) finds himself double-crossed by his wife, Lynn (DEBORAH KARA UNGER), who shoots him in the back, and by his partner Val (GREGG HENRY) who takes the money to pay off his debt to a criminal syndicate called The Outfit.

Recovered from his wounds and more than just a bit perturbed about what's transpired, Porter sets out to find Val and recover his half of their heist. Along the way he meets Stegman (DAVID PAYMER) a low-end criminal who wants to be part of The Outfit, who then informs Val that Porter's not dead and is looking for him.

Val, in turn, when not seeing dominatrix Pearl (LUCY ALEXIS LIU), seeks help from Carter (WILLIAM DEVANE), one of the Outfit's ranking members, while Porter seeks solace from his former love, Rosie (MARIA BELLO), a high-priced hooker who services the Outfit.

As Porter pulls out all the stops trying to get his money back, he must not only deal with Val, but also Outfit leaders Fairfax (JAMES COBURN) and Bronson (KRIS KRISTOFFERSON), some Asian criminals, and two corrupt cops, including Detective Hicks (BILL DUKE), who are blackmailing him for a piece of the action.

Mel Gibson ("Lethal Weapon") fans and teenage action fans will probably want to see it, but it shouldn't attract too many preteens.
For strong violence, language, and drug and sexual content.
Considering the violence, profanity, smoking, prostitution and the fact that nearly everyone present is involved in criminal activity, it's highly unlikely that any parents would find any character here to be a good role model.


OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Although he's successfully played a wide range of characters throughout his career, actor Mel Gibson is probably best known for playing the tough hero character who pursues the villains, rights any number of purported wrongs and kills many of those responsible in the process.

Such characters have been cathartic favorites among moviegoers ever since light first made its way through that thin layer of celluloid and onto the silver screen. Whether he's taken care of aristocratic villains ("Braveheart"), any number of bad guys while in the guise of detective Riggs (the "Lethal Weapon" films), or fended off a bunch of post-apocalyptic punks (the "Mad Max/Road Warrior" series), Gibson has perfectly personified the character who "takes out the trash" in an audience pleasing fashion.

In playing such characters, however, Gibson never personifies the perfect hero. Quite the contrary, his characters are occasionally flawed and nearly always have a dark and edgy quality about them, as if they're only a step -- or misstep as it were -- away from becoming a bad guy themselves. That's what makes them -- and Gibson's performances -- so much fun to watch.

Well, now he's purposefully stepped across that line in playing Porter, the "bad guy as the hero" character in his latest film, "Payback." While some have expressed concern for this "risky" career move and others have lauded this "leap," playing such a character certainly isn't much of a risk or, for that matter, a stretch for this talented actor when considering those characters he's previously inhabited.

Nor is having a villain as the central protagonist much of a big deal either, as recently proven in the fun and witty crime film, "Get Shorty" where John Travolta's criminal character was a favorite among audiences. Where this film may have taken a huge misstep, however, is in its overall brutal and sadistic tone. While the promotional pieces for it state, "Get ready to root for the bad guy," they should more properly read, "Get ready to watch Mel get the crap beaten out of him."

Although some of it's obviously meant to be taken in a comic vein, and most of it's flippantly played to some extent, including so much brutal violence is a fine line that a film like this must delicately tread lest it turn off its audience. Here we get to see Mel being shot, punched, beaten and getting several toes smashed with a large mallet, and that doesn't even include the moments when his character callously terminates (not in a shootout, but execution style) even more villainous characters.

Based on the novel "The Hunter," by Richard Stark, and as adapted and directed by Brian Helgeland (who makes his directing debut after penning films such as "L.A. Confidential" and "The Postman") and co-writer Terry Hayes ("Dead Calm"), the film does efficiently deliver the anticipated goods (the "worse" villains getting their comeuppance). As such, it seems to have the requisite amount of cathartic moments for the audience, and many at our screening seemed to get a kick out of what they were seeing.

While it does work on that basic level, the film doesn't have enough lighter moments (such as in the "Lethal Weapon" films), however, to placate those moviegoers who have a less than hearty appetite for such sadistic mayhem. Consequently, it may have a hard time finding a huge audience and may just ensure that Gibson stays over on the "good guy" side of the fence for future roles.

The revenge plot, while dramatically solid -- albeit in an extremely simplified fashion -- also doesn't offer enough in the way of those audience pleasing creative solutions (where the hero twists and shapes the proceedings to best benefit his goal) until the end is drawing near. In addition, many of the characters, including most of the Outfit members and all of the Asian gang are nothing but stereotypes or extremely two-dimensional beings of which we know next to nothing.

That's especially surprising considering Helgeland's masterfully wonderful script for "L.A. Confidential. However, it's not uncommon for former writers-turned-directors to often have problems shouldering the extra responsibilities of helming a feature, and the rumor mill has it that Gibson actually replaced the first-timer and assumed control of the finished product (which may explain the rather sporadic voice over narration that accompanies a few scenes). While one may never know the full or true extent to that story, the film clearly isn't as good as either talent probably wished or expected it to be.

That said, and for what he's trying to accomplish, Gibson is quite good in the role of the antihero. Clearly not one concerned about getting down and dirty (in appearance or behavior), Mel's perfected the scruffy, vengeful character persona and it works well for him in this picture. Despite being a "bad guy" himself -- and somewhat by default considering the rest of the cast -- Gibson easily evokes the audience's enthusiasm for his character to succeed.

The rest of the cast is decent, but can't escape the fact that most of them inhabit stereotypical, throwaway parts that will quickly be forgotten not long after one leaves the theater. Gregg Henry (the killer in Brian de Palma's "Body Double") is the standard criminal who loses his backbone whenever confronted by anyone more dangerous than him, while William Devane (TV's "Knots Landing") simply replays the intense, teeth-baring tough guy character he's perfected over the years. While Lucy Alexis Liu (TV's "Ally McBeal") gives a somewhat amusing take as a pain- loving dominatrix, it's veteran actor James Coburn ("Affliction") who steals the show in a brief appearance.

Although the film will obviously appeal to a certain segment of the moviegoing audience (those who like their mayhem served with a punch in the face and a kick in the groin), and does effectively deliver what's expected of it, the picture may just be too meanspirited and brutal for its own good and/or many moviegoers' tastes. Okay for what it's trying to accomplish, the film is "entertaining" on its own level, but clearly could have used more humor to better temper the wanton violence. We give the film a 5.5 out of 10.

Here's a quick summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Brutal and sadistic violence permeates much of the picture (some of delivered by the protagonist), with people being shot, punched, kicked and tortured in various scenes. Not surprisingly, the blood and gore, guns and weapons, violence and bad attitudes categories all receive extreme ratings.

The same holds true for profanity that clocks in with nearly 40 "f" words and a variety of other words, as well as religious and otherwise colorful phrases. Mel Gibson's character smokes throughout most of the film (with many other characters smoking as well) and some brief heroin related scenes also occur.

Some S&M material is also present (with a leather-clad woman getting excited over being roughed up or delivering punches and kicks to her lover), one character is a hooker, and some brief sexually related comments are also made.

Since many teens may want to see this film we strongly suggest that you take a closer look at what's been listed should you still be concerned or uncertain about its appropriateness for kids in that age group.

  • A "doctor" pours himself a glass full of liquor, drinks it, and then refills it to sterilize his "surgical" tools used to remove bullets from Porter's back.
  • We see Porter's wife who stumbles home, apparently high from drugs. Later, Porter finds her little heroin kit and takes it from her, locking her in the bedroom, but we then see her take out a hidden syringe. When he goes to check on her the next morning, the needle's still stuck in her arm and we see that she's overdosed.
  • An Outfit delivery guy tells Porter that he's delivering some heroin to Porter's wife.
  • Some guys playing poker have drinks.
  • People have drinks in a bar and Stegman and Val have beer.
  • People have drinks in a hotel bar.
  • Porter and Rosie drink beer.
  • We see that Porter's been shot and both his face and back are rather bloody. We also see the reflection of a "doctor" retrieving bullets from Porter's bloody wounds in the reflection of the doctor's glasses.
  • We see a syringe sticking out of a dead woman's arm.
  • Some men involved in a car crash are bloody, and Porter has a small bloody scratch on his head.
  • We see blood on the floor around Porter after he's been shot.
  • A man's nose is a little bloody after Porter tears his nose-ring from his nostril.
  • The side of a henchman's head as well as his neck and the top of his shirt are bloody.
  • Val's mouth is a bit bloody after Pearl beats him.
  • Porter's head is a little bloody after being hit by a car, and we see some of that blood on a towel Rosie uses to clean his wound.
  • A man is somewhat bloody after being shot several times.
  • Rosie has a tiny bit of a bloody nose.
  • We see a bloody bullet wound on a man who's just been shot and then see another bullet wound in a dead man's forehead.
  • We see many bloody bullet wounds in a man's back, and others who've been shot are also bloody.
  • Pearl's nose and lips are a little bloody and she then tastes her own blood.
  • Porter's face is very bloody as he's being punched and tortured, and we also see blood run from his mouth during this scene.
  • We see another injured and quite bloody man.
  • Porter is a criminal who takes money from beggars, steals a person's wallet and uses his credit to get money and purchase items. He also kills several people who wronged, or are somehow involved with people who wronged him.
  • Val's also a criminal who double crosses Porter, along with Porter's wife, to take his share of the money and leave him for dead. He also calls some Asian men "slants."
  • Detective Hicks and his partner are corrupt cops who don't report criminal activity and instead are involved in it and/or blackmail others for a piece of their action.
  • Other characters present are also criminals or hookers.
  • Viewers may find the many violent and torturous scenes as unsettling, disturbing and/or suspenseful. See "Violence" for details.
  • Outfit members apparently move toward Rosie's room while Porter tries to escape to save her.
  • Handguns/Switchblade/Explosives/Machine guns/Mallet: Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Why don't you go f*ck yourself?" "Sh*t for brains," "Slants" (for Asians), "Bitch" (about women and men), "Bastards," "Nuts" (crazy), "Balls" (testicles), "Shut up," "Idiots," "Whore," "Douche bag" and "Pain in the ass."
  • Some kids may want to imitate Porter's behavior and demeanor since he makes being the bad guy look cool (although he gets roughed up quite severely).
  • Porter jumps a pay turnstile and also litters (throwing down his empty cigarette pack onto the street).
  • None.
  • A moderate amount of dramatically suspenseful music occurs during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 38 "f" words (4 used with "mother" and 2 used sexually), 16 "s" words, 1 slang term using male genitals ("c*cksucker"), 12 hells, 4 damns, 3 S.O.B.'s, 3 asses, 1 crap, and 8 uses of "Jesus," 4 of "G-damn," and 1 use each of "Christ," "Jesus Christ," "For God's sakes" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • Porter's wife shows a bit of cleavage.
  • Arriving for some S&M (sadomasochism) with Val, Pearl, dressed in leather lingerie that shows some cleavage, smacks and punches Val who returns the same to her (which she erotically enjoys).
  • We learn that Rosie was and still is a hooker, and Porter refers to prostitution as "horizontal entertainment."
  • We see Pearl in what appears to be a leather or plastic S&M bra that shows bits and pieces of her breast (but nothing explicit). Later, when Porter threatens Val while he lies in bed with Pearl, she gets visibly aroused by the potential of violence and begins rubbing his nipple and caressing his chest (played for laughs). Moments later, we see most of her bare butt as she wears a thong- like bottom.
  • We see Pearl (wearing her leather/plastic bra again) take a phone call while she has a screaming man hanging upside down with what looks like clothes pins on his nipples (another S&M scene).
  • We see some brief, passionate kissing with heavy breathing between Porter and Rosie, but nothing else happens as he stops.
  • Being roughed up by Val, Rosie makes a comment about him not being able to "get it up" (have an erection). He then comments on her "ass" and says "I'm gonna f*ck you six ways until Sunday."
  • We see a painting on a wall of a bare-breasted woman.
  • Some henchman talk about why it's taking Porter so long to answer their phone call. One says, "He's probably f*cking her (Rosie)." Another says "He's taking long enough," to which the other says "Maybe the dog too."
  • As a woman carries the boxing round number on a card as she circles a boxing ring, we see part of her bare butt as well as some of the side of her bare breast in the outfit she wears.
  • Rosie picks up one of the Outfit member's sons, shows some cleavage, and tells the young man that she's his "birthday present." We then see her and him in the backseat kissing and him caressing the upper outside parts of her thigh as well as her clothed breast (but she stops once she handcuffs him).
  • Porter smokes throughout the movie, while Rosie, Val and a whole host of other miscellaneous people also smoke a few times.
  • Porter must deal with his wife double-crossing him and then dying of an overdose, but he doesn't show much remorse regarding either.
  • The behavior and overall criminal activity of most every character involved in the film.
  • The S&M scenes that take place between Val and Pearl.
  • The way women are depicted or treated in the film (as the recipients of violence or playing hookers, etc...), although to be fair, the men aren't portrayed in any more of a positive light.
  • We see that someone has shot Porter in the back.
  • Porter kicks open a door that then slams his wife into a wall.
  • Porter and Val purposefully crash their car into one driven by some Asian men who are carrying a briefcase full of money. Those men are injured and/or killed and Val takes one of the wounded and repeatedly smashes his head onto the dashboard and then kicks him in the head.
  • Porter's wife holds a gun on him and then shoots him several times. Val then walks up and kicks Porter in the head and the two leave him for dead.
  • Porter grabs an Outfit delivery guy and throws him across the room. He then repeatedly punches this man when he won't talk, tears the man's nose-ring from his nostril, and then holds his gun to the man's forehead.
  • Although we don't see the actual act, Porter wounds a henchman as we see the man whose head, neck and the top of his shirt are bloody.
  • Reporting for some S&M (sadomasochism) with Val, Pearl, dressed in leather lingerie that shows some cleavage, smacks and punches Val who returns the same to her (which she erotically enjoys).
  • Porter slams a flip-down counter top onto a bartender's hand to get him to comply with Porter's demands.
  • Rosie states that Val can't see any of the Outfit's hookers because he's gotten violent with them in the past.
  • Porter holds a gun on Val and then prepares to strike him, but Pearl stops him stating that she'll do it (for her erotic pleasure). We then see her hit, punch and kick Val several times (he hits her back but Porter stops him) as well as her twisting her foot quite hard onto his crotch. Porter finishes him off by kicking him in the face and we then hear Pearl whipping him.
  • Some men purposefully run their car into Porter, knocking him down onto the street. The occupants then grab Porter, put him on the hood and threaten to use a switchblade on his crotch, but stop when the police arrive.
  • Detective Hick's partner slaps Porter on the back of his head and Hicks then punches Porter several times.
  • Val holds a gun on Rosie and then grabs her by the hair as he leads her through her place. Her dog then attacks Val, he shoots the dog (but we later see that it was only injured), she attacks him and he then strikes her and then picks her up from the floor with a firm grip around her neck. He then hits her with his handgun.
  • Porter shoots a man in the shoulder, and then again in the knee as that man reaches for his other gun. He then steps down on the man's shoulder with a great deal of pressure to make him talk. Finally, he puts a pillow on the man's head and then shoots him through it, killing the man.
  • A car explosion kills three people.
  • Porter punches Carter's henchman, and kicks one in his head, rendering both unconscious.
  • Porter shoots another man dead.
  • We see another dead or unconscious person that Porter has killed/injured. Porter then holds his gun on other men and fires a shot through a suitcase one man is holding.
  • A man holds a gun on Porter who then takes the gun from him and repeatedly slams his head against the glass divider in a cab. The driver then holds a shotgun on Porter.
  • A van pulls up next to a car and the people inside open fire with machine guns, riddling two of the three people inside the car. Porter manages to get out and fires his handguns into the van, killing many of those inside. The driver, however, backs the van into Porter and drives him backwards into a bunch of boxes. Porter then shoots and kills several more people.
  • A person knocks Porter unconscious and then slugs Pearl.
  • Some men punch Porter and then use a mallet to smash several of his toes, one by one, trying to get him to talk (we only hear the impact, but do see his pained reaction).
  • A large explosion damages a building, kills at least three people inside it, and wounds or kills two more outside it.

  • Reviewed February 2, 1999 / Posted on February 5, 1999

    Other new and recent reviews include:

    [Cruella] [A Quiet Place Part II] [Army of the Dead] [Dream Horse] [P!nk:  All I Know So Far]

    Privacy Statement and Terms of Use and Disclaimer
    By entering this site you acknowledge to having read and agreed to the above conditions.

    All Rights Reserved,
    ©1996-2021 Screen It, Inc.