The latest adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story (following 1982's
"Blade Runner," 2002's "Impostor," and 2002's "Minority Report"),
"Paycheck" is director John Woo's (2002's "Windtalkers") answer to
telling one of the author's science-fiction tales. Woo, however, doesn't
seem to be as interested in his futuristic premise and technology
as he is in filming high-speed chases and blowing things up. While
the tautly paced "Paycheck" succeeds at keeping your attention, it
offers nothing at all to think about or even remember once its two
hours have run their course. In other words, its potentially thought-provoking
ideas about the future and the value of one's memory are lost upon
a series of gaping plot holes and generic action stunts.
Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is an engineer who makes his money
from billionaire boss Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart) by working on top-secret
projects and then agreeing to have his memory erased to cover their
tracks. When Michael's latest assignment offers him $92-million in
exchange for three years of his life that he won't remember after
the fact, he can't refuse. But when the time is over, he is distraught
to find that the money he was supposed to be paid has been canceled.
In its place are twenty seemingly random items (a lighter, a bus ticket,
hairspray, etc.) that create a puzzle M ichael is not sure how to
figure out. With Rethrick and his henchmen hot on his tail, Michael
pairs up with scientist Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman), his girlfriend
from the three years he can't remember, to solve the puzzle and possibly
stop an ill-fated predestined future that could cost them their lives.
"Paycheck" is a diverting entertainment that, unfortunately, does
not divert enough to cover up its many inadequacies. As a sci-fi picture,
it fails enormously. The time period in which the film is set is never
made clear, and director John Woo shows no interest in developing
the plot or explaining the technology that plays such a vital role
in the proceedings. The story can be followed, but in doing so one
must experience one too many leaps in logic to get there. The key
to a successful genre flick is in taking its subject matter seriously
and treating it in a realistic manner. "Paycheck" does not do this.
The action setpieces, including a motorcycle chase, a chase throu
gh the Seattle subway, and a laboratory shoot-out, are rousing and
come at a quick enough clip to keep the movie from growing tiresome.
They break no new ground, and are cliches, but Woo shoots and edits
them in a pulse-pounding manner. It should be said, though, that the
placement of a white doveWoo's trademark visualduring the climax is
an extraneous, jarring addition that takes you out of the moment.
Ben Affleck (whose 2003's "Gigli" was a vastly underrated movie) is
a convincing actor who disappears into his roles, something that he
often is overlooked for. He works as a romantic lead, as a sidekick,
and he capably fulfills the requirements of an action hero here. As
his Michael Jennings attempts to unravel the mysteries that surround
him, we are more than happy to follow him because he is genuinely
likable. Uma Thurman is fine, but underused, as love interest Rachel
Porter, perhaps because she ha d so much more to do (and was the butt-kicking
star herself) in 2003's "Kill Bill: Vol. One."
Whether or not "Paycheck" is worth seeing depends on how die-hard
a fan you are of the action genre. As such, it is exciting and refuses
to lag for a moment, but there is nothing on display that really would
warrant a trip to the movie theater. The film is mostly forgettable,
barrenly developed from a sci-fi standpoint, and will likely play
better on the small screen with the surround sound speakers amped
up. "Paycheck" is akin to a technically well-made straw house that
doesn't have the strength to withhold a gust of wind.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman