Paycheck

March 18th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed By John Woo

Starring Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Aaron Eckhart, Paul Giamatti.

What’s more interesting about Paycheck than the movie is the players behind the scenes.

There’s Philip K Dick, who once said about Hollywood that you’d have to kill him, prop him up in the front seat of his car and paint a smile on his face to get him to even go near there. His writing was dismissed as pulp for the most dedicated group of nerds in the 70’s and 80’s and he died long before his kind of science fiction became respectable (and his stories became profitable).

There’s the Hollywood system, with its voracious appetite to tediously milk a character, author or franchise for every cent. After Bladerunner, Total Recall and Minority Report (all based on Dick’s short stories), he continues to be hotter than a private screening at Spago’s restaurant. Turning in his grave? Spinning like a top, more likely.

There’s Jon Woo, whose strong visual style (and ubiquitous use of doves) made him one of the darling directors of the 1990’s, earning him incredible pyrothechnics budgets and some of the luminaries of superstardom to work with. Paycheck makes him no more than a low-rent studio hack churning out a flashing lights display, dropping in a couple of his signature images, taking the money and running.

And there’s Ben Affleck, who’s had (and needed) more comebacks than KISS. He admitted to being nearly broke after his early Kevin Smith years (Chasing Amy, Mallrats), when Bruckheimer popcorn flick Armageddon put him on the road to superstardom. After a string of average to above-average movies (yes, including Daredevil), his career culminated last year in the savagery directed at his movies and personal life, courtesy of J Lo and Gigli.

Paycheck is more than any of the players deserve, except the studio heads who found themselves stuck with a flop when early audiences in the US realised they were sleeping on the job again.

Michael Jennings (Affleck as chiselled, square-jawed hero for hire) is a specialist computer engineer who sells his services to rich corporations by back engineering competitor’s technology and then having his memory wiped in the ultimate confidentiality agreement.

When a big payday comes in the form of an offer from an old friend and CEO of a generic Big and Bad Corporation (Eckhart), it’ll set him up for life but cost him three years.

When he comes to after the assignment, he discovers his tens of millions of stock options have been forfeited and he’s been left an envelope containing 19 seemingly innocuous items. When Jennings discovers it was he himself who gave up the money and had the apparently useless stuff left for himself, the race is on to find out why — particularly since there are people trying to kill him.

And it’s here director Woo drowns Dick with so many fights, chases and explosions it suffocates the value of the story, and we’re left with a vague nod to the source story with a hit of crystal meth in a very generic chase movie with the blonde bombshell leading lady, comic sidekick and implausibly combat-trained hero all accounted for.

Paul Giamatti drops all the indie credibility he’s built up from movies like Storytelling and American Splendour, and without the Tarantino cool endowed on her at the moment, Uma Thurman would be another stock standard giggling Hollywood bimbo love interest. In fact, if she wasn’t overacting so badly, you’d be expecting her to leap out in her bloodstained, yellow Game of Death tracksuit and start slicing away with her samurai sword.

If you feel like something just a little bit more detailed than sitting at home playing Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six on your Playstation 2 and you don’t mind a straightforward plot (that they somehow manage to complicate more than necessary) wedged in where the overly-slick action sequences will allow, you should get something out of Paycheck.


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