The second attempt to adapt Donald E. Westlake's pseudonymously written novel The Hunter, Payback tells the story of a man out for revenge for a specific sum of money owed him, and willing to go to great lengths to obtain it. The first version, the 1967 John Boorman film Point Blank, is the sort of indisputable classic to which comparing Payback wouldn't be fair. Besides, Payback fails not by comparison, but on its own terms. Left for dead by his partner (Gregg Henry) and wife (Deborah Unger) after a successful heist, the criminally minded Mel Gibson hits the streets looking for, you guessed it, payback. Over the course of the film, he wipes out countless lowlifes who attempt to stand in his way. Directed, sort of, by screenwriter and first-time director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, The Postman), the film has its moments. Its cool, washed-out, blue look remains impressive until the novelty wears off, and some characters, most notably James Coburn's, make an impression during their death-destined appearances. After a clash with Gibson, however, Helgeland lost control of his completed film, resulting in extensive reshoots directed by an uncredited replacement. This shows in Gibson's tacked-on, cliché-riddled voiceover narration—we know "nice guys finish last" already; we've read it on bumper stickers—and a scene in which a dog, after pretty clearly getting fatally shot in the head, turns up in the next scene wearing bandages around its ribs. But even without the additions, there are only a few things to recommend Payback, and those unconventional touches are undone by Gibson's thoroughly conventional wisecracking-tough-guy performance. If you do feel the need to compare it to Point Blank, consider that in Point Blank, Lee Marvin walks through the film with the look of a man who's lost his soul. You can see it in his eyes. Look in Gibson's eyes in this one and you'll see soullessness, but it doesn't seem to come from anywhere within his character.
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