directed by Brian Helgeland
(Paramount, 1999)

One must question Porter's motivation.

Porter (Mel Gibson) has been set up by his friend Val Resnick (Gregg Henry) and his wife Lynn (Deborah Unger) to steal a money shipment from the Chinese mob. The take is only $140,000, but Porter is content with his $70,000 share -- but Resnick needs the cash to buy his way into the Outfit (organized crime). So Val and Lynn leave Porter (who has no first name, apparently) for dead, with two bullet holes in his back. Porter, of course, survives. He wants his $70,000, and he'll take on the entire Outfit to get it.

Revenge never seems to be a big part of his motive. He actually tries to help his wife when he finds her hooked on heroin. All he ever seems interested in, as he battles his way through levels of the Outfit's hierarchy (as well as a pack of vengeful Chinese mobsters) is his $70,000 -- he even gets upset when he's mistakenly offered more.

The payback hardly seems worth the pain he suffers along the way, to say nothing of the amount of death and destruction he causes to achieve his ends. But then, I suppose that's part of the joke.

Underscoring the nonstop violence of the film is a constant layer of humor -- the same sort which marked his Lethal Weapon movies with Danny Glover. Gibson's Porter isn't quite sane, and he seems quite immune to pain when it gets in his way.

While people die by the boatload, the filmmakers balked at killing a dog. It's only a flesh wound, so animal lovers can rest easy.

Gibson is dramatically supported by Rosie (Maria Bello), a high-priced whore and loyal ex-lover. The comic bits are accented by Ally McBeal's Lucy Liu as Pearl, an S&M dom who really loves her work.

Henry is perhaps a bit too amoral as Resnick, but the Outfit's infrastructure includes good performances by David Paymer, William Devane and Kris Kristofferson.

Payback ain't art. There are no hidden meanings or morals to the tale. Shot with a blue filter and with Gibson's voiceover providing real film noir atmosphere, it's little more than a few hours' diversion. If you don't mind the blood and body count, you'll probably enjoy it.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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