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Pulp Friction

Gibson's Payback translates solidly to the screen

For those who come to the film with no baggage, who have never read Westlake or seen Point Blank, Helgeland's film is, despite the occasional gruesomeness, a polished, fast-moving thriller with a nineties style. Gibson negotiates Porter's not-always-plausible changes believably, sometimes evoking memories of his Martin Riggs character in the Lethal Weapon films. Porter occasionally addresses us in voice-over, suggesting that he is remembering the story, although Helgeland doesn't cleave to this point of view.

The supporting cast is uniformly first-rate. Gregg Henry -- one of those guys you've seen in a million bit film roles and bigger parts in TV movies -- should make a big leap forward with this performance. His Resnick is a totally loathsome villain: an utter bully and, like most bullies, an even more complete coward. The moment when Resnick realizes that Porter is alive and looking for him is priceless. David Paymer and Lucy Alexis Liu are also memorable in far broader roles. John Glover, who shows up for about two minutes (was his part trimmed?), and Bill Duke are wasted. (Duke is featured in a subplot that could easily have been omitted.)

Helgeland makes a solid debut as director here, finding a new angle through which to view the Parker character, and doing so without exhausting the possibilities. Who would have thought that a pulp paperback original from the early sixties would prove rich enough to bring forth two film adaptations and still leave room for a third?

Payback.
Rated R.
Directed by Brian Helgeland. With Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, David Paymer, William Devane, James Coburn, Bill Duke and Kris Kristofferson.

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