Gibson plays Porter, a good old fashioned criminal. One day while pulling a robbery, he's double crossed by his wife and his best friend. Shot in the back, he's left for dead in a parking garage. Of course if he was dead, there would be no movie. So, five months later, he's back on his feet and out for revenge. His wife has turned into an addict, and his best friend Val (Gregg Henry) has joined a group that's known as The Syndicate (or The Outfit depending on who you're talking to. I think Syndicate has a much nicer ring to it.) So in order to get back his $70,000 (his half of the robbery money) Porter is forced to track down Val, and at the same time, knock off The Syndicate.
I've been reading that the knock on this film is that it's too violent. Shocking brutality and all that. But I didn't think it was any more violent that any other action movie out there. The difference is the good guy is actually a bad guy. Porter is a criminal who enjoys what he does. If it involves shooting someone, he'll do it. If he has to frame some cops along the way, he'll do it. I don't think people are used to the hero of a movie killing people without reason. But I found it quite fun and funny. Not that I'm for random acts of violence or anything. But on a movie screen it's enjoyable. And Porter does have his redeeming qualities. When he looks up an old girlfriend (Maria Bello), you see that he does have a heart. Also, they never really explain who The Syndicate is, but it seems to be a Mafia type organization. Either way, when you get William Devane, James Coburn, and Kris Kristofferson as the main guys in The Syndicate, you know you're in for a good time.
The one thing about this movie I really enjoyed was the look. Everything was blue and grey, with splashes of color thrown in. It had a very 50's film noir look about it. And throw in a killer soundtrack (any movie that has Hendrix's Voodoo Child in it is tops in my book) and you have a pretty slick film.
So overall, I enjoyed Payback. I suppose it helps to be a Mel Gibson fan, but if you're just a fan of action and things blowing up, I think you'll like it too.