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Paycheck (2003)

PG-13  |   |  Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi  |  25 December 2003 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.3/10 from 86,087 users   Metascore: 43/100
Reviews: 340 user | 194 critic | 34 from

What seemed like a breezy idea for an engineer to net him millions of dollars, leaves him on the run for his life and piecing together why he's being chased.



(short story), (screenplay)
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Title: Paycheck (2003)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Rita Dunne
Christopher Kennedy ...
Agent Fuman
Agent Mitchell
Jude - Guard


Michael Jennings is a reverse engineer and what he does is technical jobs for certain companies and as soon as he is done, his memory of the work he has done is wiped out. Now the longest he has been contracted is 2 months. But now billionaire, James Rethrick offers him a job that would last 2 years, maybe 3, and he promises that he will probably earn 8 figures. Michael agrees. Before beginning he turns in all of his personal effects. And when the job is done, his memory is erased and he learns he made over 90 million dollars over the three years. When he goes to claim it and his personal effects, he discovers that prior to the erasure of his memory he waived his rights to the money he earned and that the items that were given to him were not the ones he gave when he began. Later he is arrested by the FBI who say that he committed some act of treason and murder. It's while he is in custody that he escapes using some the items that he was given. He later meets with a friend who gives ... Written by

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Everything's Under control See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for intense action violence and brief language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

25 December 2003 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El pago  »

Box Office


$60,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$13,462,374 (USA) (26 December 2003)


$2,141,356 (Japan) (2 April 2004)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


John Woo:  [doves]  See more »


The film was made in 2003, yet Jennings comes home after a high-tech mind erasure after engineering a holographic computer, and inserts a very low-tech VHS recording of a Red Sox game. While seemingly an anachronism, he may simply possess a personal preference for this kind of medium, as some people still do in 2010. See more »


[first lines]
Holographic Woman: It's time to wake up... and get a life. We live in a 3-dimensional world. Until now, the world of computing has been a flat world, consisting of 2-dimensional imagery. Now, through the use of exclusive breakthrough technology, ARC has made it possible for you to get a life. A-Life, where we can work and play in a lifelike world of 3-dimensional reality. A-Life, the living monitor.
See more »


Referenced in From Hong Kong to Hollywood: The Making of John Woo (2004) See more »


Written & Performed by Paul Horn
Courtesy of Inside Music, Inc.
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Good action but the gimmick is difficult to accept because it continually forces you to accept it
18 January 2004 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Michael Jennings is a reverse engineer who, in exchange for big money, takes items apart in order to rebuild them for other companies. After every job his memory is wiped back to the moment he started the job. When he is offered a massive payday to do a three-year job for friend James Rethrick he accepts. Next thing he knows it is three years later and the job done. He goes to collect his money but finds that he has waived his right to it and replaced it with a package full of strange objects. When he is set up with the FBI he goes on the run and realises that the objects are all clues or aids in his mission - a mission that he himself has arranged.

There's nothing quite like a good action movie that allows you to accept whatever the plot is as it presents good solid action. This film almost manages it and it is ironic that the concept from Dick is what weakens it. The plot is a bit of a stretch but once you accept it you can move on - like Face/Off, once you get the idea and accept it you can enjoy the action. However with Paycheck you are only left alone for 10 minutes before you have to accept the stretched plot all over again. Every time an item perfectly fits a situation you have to accept the whole concept over again. The problem is that the items are far too specific. With the lottery number strip it works, however with the paperclip and the bullet it is too much of a stretch and took the enjoyment off the action a bit.

Happily it is only a bit. The plot as an idea works pretty well but has been done better elsewhere (Bourne Identity and Total Recall for example) it is presented too full of holes that appear with the slightest picking. It would have been much better if the items had been bigger in terms of meaning rather than very specific (e.g. the lighter and hairspray), bigger clues and so on would have been better. However the action is still pretty good, not quite classic Woo but full or good touches. The film has a good steady pace to it and it keeps it up for the majority - very quickly getting through the set up and jumping to three years hence. The action is enjoyably slick and makes good use of effects; true, some of the set ups in the scenes is stretched, and some of the stuff about the weapons is just dumb (a fired bullet with it's casing, a bullet being fired by a thick piece of metal etc), however if you can accept the plot then I imagine accepting that Woo often takes style over substance shouldn't be a problem.

The cast is so-so despite having a surprising amount of famous faces. Affleck is better than usual; because he is quite ordinary he plays an everyman pretty well and it is easy to see him as a `normal' guy. Eckhart is reasonably good but he has limited screen time. It's good to see him in big films like this as he is an interesting guy, but I hope he doesn't just turn off his skills. Giamatti is in the film briefly and is OK comic relief but Thurman has been miscast. She does most of the film pretty well but her early scenes as an expert biologist are laughable she is so inept! The support cast features a really good turn from Feore as well as good roles from Morton and the wonderful Hall - although the roles are practically cameos.

Overall this is an enjoyable little action movie but it is ironic that the story is both interesting and the film's weak point. The items are too specific and, each time Jennings uses one, it forces the audience to accept the unlikely premise all over again. Worth seeing for enjoyable action delivered by a director who recovers some of his form here.

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