2003 - PG-13 - 117 Mins.
|Director: John Woo
|Producer: John Woo, Terence Chang, John Davis, Michael Hackett
|Written By: Dean Georgaris
|Starring: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Peter Friedman, Joe Morton
|Review by: Carl Langley
If there ever was an opportunity to attest how the compound structure of John Woo and science fiction would inadequately mix, Paycheck is the perfect solution. After intently listening to its premise, the motion picture sounded very intriguing. Sadly enough, the film utilizes its experimental plot for the sole purpose of action and never fully understands what it could have been. Paycheck languishes from being muddled in John Woo mode: the repetitive action and martial arts, the insufficient, yet periodically dialogue, and inattentive screenwriting. The premise just clings and is inappropriately attached, resulting in a mess. John Woo and science fiction do not mix. To quote Jules Winnfield, “They are not even in the same ballpark.”
As long as I look pretty
The film was adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story, whose stories are ultimately demiurgically branded and feature thought-provoking ideas. He is the architect behind such sci-fi prodigies Minority Report, Total Recall, and Blade Runner. There are few film experiences where you are aware that the story has fallen into the wrong hands and you still sit there, hoping to be proven wrong because the novel idea, after brutally shredded, still seems oddly magnificent. Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott handled Dick’s yarn effectively because of their inventive mind and appreciation for the genre. John Woo has an inventive mind – for roundhouses and finding different ways of blow stuff up. This is why he has made his trademark in American cinema and Paycheck proves he will be washed up pretty quickly.
I stated it before in The Sum of All Fears and Daredevil and I will state it now: Ben Affleck is not an action hero. He does not fit the profile. He fits the action hero archetype as well as a straight man spending his Friday night in a gay club. Here he plays Michael Jennings, a reverse-engineer who dismantles the products of other companies and reassembles them in ways that would avoid certain violations. When the job is completed, Michael’s memory is wiped clean from the time he started on the project, whether it is for fear of the beans being spilled or his own personal safety issues. Either way, Michael is rewarded with a healthy paycheck.
This time around, a man named Rethrick, ruthlessly played by Aaron Eckhart, offers him a deal worth eight figures. The catch is he will be losing not a couple months, but three years of his life to be exact. Everything seems to have materialized smoothly until Michael goes to pick up his paycheck. He discovers he forfeited the money in exchange for a manila envelope with nineteen useless items. Some of them include: a paper clip, a half-done crossword puzzle, scented hairspray, a cookie fortune, a fifty cent piece, a bullet, and even an expensive diamond ring. Soon enough, he is being chased by the cops and shot at by the guys who hired him. And with the help of the bodacious biologist (Uma Thurman), whom he had a relationship with during the three-year period, he figures out these objects are not as worthless as he thought. In fact, they can save his life.
There is more than one nuisance tagged on this major disappointment of a motion picture. Besides not exploiting the fantastic premise correctly and using it as a cornerstone for an action wreck, Paycheck was written with foolishly dense characters. The characters do not seem to care what is presently happening to them and it is really noticeable and outrageously irritating.
It does not help that the cast is uniformly acting half-heartedly. The main problem with Ben Affleck has already been established. After Daredevil, Gigli, and now this humdinger, it is a wonder how long studios will shell out eight figures to him. Aaron Eckhart is completely wasted, as is Uma Thurman, who gets to show us in some scenes that her training for Kill Bill was not a complete waste.
Audiences will noticed the resemblance to The Bourne Identity in the fact in has to do with amnesia, but really the movies are quite different. Affleck’s buddy, Matt Damon, was the star of the latter and he did it with grace. This film is pathetic. With the lack of directing, intelligent screenwriting, energetic performances, eye-popping action sequences, and all logical sense, all that is left is the paycheck.