Mixed or average reviews - based on 24 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 8 out of 24
  2. Negative: 5 out of 24

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Critic Reviews

  1. Payback has a completely different spirit from "L.A. Confidential'' -- more wild, more silly -- but it has the same attention to the fine points of plot and character.
  2. 78
    Helgeland's film positively seethes with bad vibrations; it's kicky, nasty urban sangfroid with pointy little teeth and a serious case of the angries, an existential hand grenade disguised as a heist film.
  3. 75
    While there's quite a bit more graphic bloodshed and brutality here than in any of the late screen icon's vehicles, Payback is a worthy '90s successor to his kind of movie.
  4. 75
    There is much cleverness and ingenuity in Payback, but Mel Gibson is the key. The movie wouldn't work with an actor who was heavy on his feet, or was too sincere about the material.
  5. 70
    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.
  6. Reviewed by: Ron Wells
    Rips out at least one dimension to reduce everything to archetypal good guys and bad guys, or bad guy and worse guys.
  7. Payback is a thriller so mean and degraded it carries a low-down, vicious charge. Sadism is its only real subject, and its only real life as well.
  8. USA Today
    Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    Marvin leavened his sociopathy with a hint of little boy naivete or innocence -- Gibson is merely a frequently funny thug. {5 February 1999, Life, p. 11E]
  9. 60
    Helgeland strips the material back to its pulp origins and overlays it with a patina of glib motifs familiar to devotees of Hollywood’s 1970s renaissance.
  10. That script – co-written by Terry Hayes and director Brian Helgeland – is almost too noir for its own good at times, but Gibson somehow manages to pull its implausibility off.
  11. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    The only moments of conviction come from an Asian-American dominatrix called Pearl (Lucy Liu), who brings far more glee to the task of beating people up than the picture's star or director. If the audience could have half as much fun as Pearl is having, Payback would be a kick.
  12. In the last third, Payback turns into a joke.
  13. 50
    Payback is a brutally entertaining crime drama that should have been a little more brutal and a little less entertaining.
  14. Reviewed by: Emanuel Levy
    Not an embarrassment, but it's not distinguished, either.
  15. Reviewed by: Jeff Giles
    Payback may not always be P.C., but it's not interested in making friends, anyway. Just killing enemies.
  16. Has the makings of that rarest of ventures, an adaptation that is true to the spirit of the original as well as its own time and place. But as Payback wends its way toward its conclusion, its promise dissipates and its pleasures wane.
  17. 40
    The comic timing and Gibson's mugging are skillful, but the movie fulfills expectations of plot twists and ironic atmosphere only after having made clear that it won't be offering much else.
  18. It careens from coarse comedy to smart-ass stylization to vicious violence without ever becoming convincing on any level.
  19. 40
    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.
  20. Chicago Tribune
    Reviewed by: Michael Wilmington
    The idea may sound like fun, but the movie isn't. It's a travesty of a picture that's a disgrace to the memory of the great film from which it's remade. [5 February 1999, Friday, po.A]
  21. An interesting cast is wasted in this misanthropic thriller.
  22. So it's hard to know who gets the blame for Payback. I say we cut Mel some slack and put the hex on Helgeland.
  23. We're supposed to adore Gibson's sang-froid and his toughness, but everything, a few good lines aside, is so witless and monotonous it becomes numbing.
  24. What one word might best describe Payback? How about "loathsome"?
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 147 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 4 out of 8
  2. Negative: 2 out of 8
  1. Sep 24, 2012
    Never a classic, Payback is just a nice mix of black comedy and action which does it's job well. It includes certain noir elements, such as aNever a classic, Payback is just a nice mix of black comedy and action which does it's job well. It includes certain noir elements, such as a grey layering to the visuals and horn layden soundtrack, that help make it different and refreshing enough to stand out, and you also never know quite what to expect throughout the film either. Not one to have at the top of the viewing list, but one that's worthy of your time. Full Review »
  2. May 25, 2015
    After a clumsily uneventful first act, "Payback" manages to redeem itself with some nostalgically noir-ish tonality and a healthy dose ofAfter a clumsily uneventful first act, "Payback" manages to redeem itself with some nostalgically noir-ish tonality and a healthy dose of subverted expectation. Full Review »
  3. R.L.
    Oct 3, 2009
    Let me start off by saying that this movie wasn't half bad, It could have been better but not half bad. Payback is about tough guy Let me start off by saying that this movie wasn't half bad, It could have been better but not half bad. Payback is about tough guy Porter who wants just one thing and one thing only, Payback! As the title so justly puts and he wants his money that was taken from him and he'll do anything and everything to get it back. What I found interesting about this film was the malicious way it was played out it was like an evil little wind up monkey that kept clattering and making noise and irritating yo until you got fed up and just step on the darn thing. Well that's the main plot for the movie, it's meant to zip along at only an 1hr. 34 mins. and it expects you to be entertained by this mess, but a good mess it was. Mel Gibson plays a character he's played a thousand times the macho tough guy with no fear. He played this type in all four Lethal Weapon movies, he played this again in Mad Max 1,2 and 3. So why did he try and see if he could pull it off again? Well becuase he can! And he did! Gibson puts some humanity and somewhat of a soul in an almost soulless character and he does it with such style and grace that it almost makes you want to slap Porter instead of punching him. And that's something, not by much, but something. Brian Helgeland( co-write for L.A. Confidential) tries to play on that moody, devil may care, I'll shoot you if you look at me cross eyed type of Anti-hero and that's all in good but the anti-hero he's created Porter is not somebody you can relate to, or even like for that matter, there were some scenes like I said that you wanted to hit Porter and then there were some scenes that you sympathized with him very well. And there is where this films greatness lies it gives you two sides of the coin to see, on one side the nasty Porter on the other side the kind and loving Porter. It gives you two sides to a very complicated and very world weary man and in my opinion that makes this a good movie. Payback is not action thriller greatness like Lethal Weapon or Die Hard but it does come very close, oh so very close, But the thing is with this movie is that it borders on almost a Noirish type style of cinematography and that up's it appeal to me and who know who else, but in the under lying layers of the film it does have greatness in it it just hasn't been able to tap into it fully but as time goes by this film will become a Mel Gibson classic and a cult classic for that matter. But is Payback a terrible movie? no way! Is movie making magic? Sorry to tell you no, nothing magical about this one but it is great fun to watch play out and follow along. All in all Payback is an almost can't miss action drama, it flows along nice and it delivers it's punches nicely, it doesn't waste your time and it is great, irresistible fun. Payback is a revenge plot you want to be apart of. Full Review »