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Rating: ** out of ****
I wonder what it says about the state of cinematic science fiction that most of author Philip K. Dick's adaptations generally mix high-octane action with its interesting sci-fi concepts. Paycheck is no exception, hardly a surprise when you note it's from once beloved Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo, who's quickly reaching Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich levels of notoriety in the U.S. with each regressive film.
To be fair, Paycheck isn't unenjoyable, and it even gets off to a pretty good start. Set sometime in the near future, there's not much of a noticeable difference with our present time except for a few elaborate-looking gadgets and computers. Ben Affleck stars as Michael Jennings, a reverse engineer who's hired by major corporations to build products superior to all rival companies. Afterwards, his memory is erased by a partner of his (Paul Giamatti) and he's given a large paycheck for his time and troubles (usually the whole process takes about three months).
His latest offer comes from an old friend of his (Aaron Eckhart), who promises an eight-figure deal at the end of the transaction. The catch is that the whole procedure will take three years. Despite some reluctance, he agrees to the deal and when the three years pass by, Jennings, thinking he's a rich man, is shocked to discover he gave up over ninety million dollars in favor of an envelope containing twenty everyday household items. Now he finds himself on the run from both the FBI and the company that hired him, and must set out to discover what he built during those three years he's missing.
Uma Thurman also stars in the movie as Jennings' girlfriend during that three-year span, but she factors so lazily into the picture, she's obviously only in the film so that a) Jennings can have a love interest and b) he can also have someone to talk to about every little discovery he makes. Then again, function "b" could have worked just as well with Giamatti, but everyone knows a "sexy" chick is a better sell (I have to put quote marks around sexy because Thurman looks positively haggard for almost every minute of screen time she's present; I can't help but feel the much hotter Kathryn Morris would have done better in the role).
There are two concepts in this movie that specifically intrigue me (some moderate spoilers here), the first one is choosing deliberately to erase your own memory, but the notion is forgotten after the first half-hour. I was quite curious to know exactly what the process is like to the subject. Take, for instance, the fact that he lost his memory over the three-year span. Does the last thing he remembers feel like a three-year old memory or an event that happened just a second ago? Instead, all we get is a half-hearted (actually, not even that much) attempt at a sorrowful romance because he can't remember his girlfriend and she's not very happy about that.
The other major sci-fi concept, the ability to see into the future, isn't explored with much more interest and it leads to a number of baffling questions. You see (quite a few spoilers here), it's revealed Jennings sent himself those twenty items because they can come in handy at a specific moment that'll help him survive or escape from a dangerous situation.
But the thing is, Jennings couldn't have known each item would come in handy unless he used the device he built at least twenty times, because there's no way he'd know a motorcycle would come in handy if he never had, say, the bus ticket to escape from the FBI, meaning he used the device to see what he needed to escape the FBI, but still foresaw that he'd be killed in even more future events. That would mean this guy was originally destined to die or get caught in well over ten different scenarios (i.e. he had the bus ticket to escape, but if he didn't have the motorbike keys, he wouldn't have gotten further, and so on and so forth), but this is never really addressed.
By John Woo standards, there's surprisingly only a modest amount of action in the film, but at least the material is competently handled, even if it's not entirely believable. What might work in movies that establish their characters as supercops with impeccable aims doesn't come off quite as well in action scenes that feature scientists beating up a large number of armed goons. But if you suspend disbelief, the action scenes are pretty fun (especially the motorcycle chase and the laboratory battle), and coupled with the relatively fast pace, keep the movie perfectly watchable despite the poor script and mediocre acting (I never got into specifics, but this is Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman we're talking about).
When all is said and done, Paycheck is a wasted opportunity and is never as memorable a mixture of science fiction, mystery, and action as Minority Report, but it's likely to do the trick for undemanding fans of any of these genres. If you expect more, well, you'd do best to remember this is John Woo we're talking about, not Steven Spielberg.
Philip K Dick wrote many stories which seemed to have great film
potential. I never thought of this as one of them.
I have seen Ben Affleck in a number of films, and felt that he was good in a few, OK in most, and positively annoying in some.
I saw the horrible, misleading trailers.
The soundtrack was simply bad.
So, needless to say, I went into Paycheck with very low expectations.... and I was pleasantly surprised.
Affleck plays a talented reverse-engineer, who sees the possibilities in new technology, and is able to carry it through to fruition. He takes on top-secret jobs and has his memory erased upon the completion of each. He decides to take on a project big and profitable enough to allow him to retire comfortably for the rest of his life. He completes the project, goes through the memory erasure, and then starts to discover what he has done, and, pursued by corporate hit men and the police, tries to recover his memory. Uma Thurmond, a biologist he had fallen in love with, is one of the memories he wants to recover, and also a target.
Paycheck is more of an action film than a sci fi flick. The plot serves the action, as do the somewhat one-dimensional characters. And there is so little chemistry between Affleck and Thurmond that the romantic subplot is almost just a distraction. Despite these flaws, I spent an evening being thoroughly entertained by this rehashing of the usual technology-run-amok / knowledge-is-power story. This film is very Hollywood, and uses a lot of slick and clichéd camera-work, but nevertheless tells a good story and does it well enough.
Michael Jennings is a reverse engineer who, in exchange for big money,
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
accepts. Next thing he knows it is three years later and the job done.
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
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.
Though futuristic in look and tone, John Woo's `Paycheck' is really a throwback to that oldie about the man who wakes up one day as an amnesiac only to find himself being pursued by the authorities for a crime he may or may not have committed (just about every other Hitchcock film seemed to be built on this premise to one extent or another). The difference is that Michael Jennings is an amnesiac by choice, a brilliant engineer and scientist whose job it is to develop top-secret inventions for hi tech corporations. Once he's delivered the goods, he allows his memory to be erased thereby rendering him innocuous as a security threat - in exchange for the lucrative paychecks the companies offer him.
Yet another of the many recent adaptations of a Phillip Dick story, `Paycheck' begins in the present day, a strange choice on the part of the filmmakers actually, for in this film's view of 2004, the technology for memory erasure seems to be in full swing and widely accepted (perhaps the producers didn't want to have to deal with the expense or bother of creating futuristic designs for their sets and costumes). The majority of the story, however, takes place in 2007, after Jennings `wakes up' from a three-year stint working on a secret project about which he can remember nothing. The trouble is that things haven't quite worked out the way Jennings planned as he finds himself the quarry of both the FBI and the organization for which he was working. Of course, Jennings doesn't know why. As is customary with films of this type, we uncover the clues and piece together the picture right along with the increasingly more enlightened main character.
It's that piecing together that is the sole factor of interest in `Paycheck,' for Dick is clearly a writer with a fertile imagination and a gift for mind-bending storytelling. When the film sticks to unraveling its plot complications, it is generally sharp, intriguing and thought-provoking. Too often, though, the film degenerates into a collection of man-on-the-run, action movie clichés. Although the special effects are occasionally impressive, the far-too-frequent chase sequences defy all logic and believability. In fact, a number of scenes actually elicit a few unwanted giggles, so ludicrous and over-the-top are the setup and execution. Director Woo, past master of action spectaculars, is clearly working on autopilot in this film.
There isn't much to say about the acting, either. Although Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman - as the woman Jennings fell in love with during the three years, but whom he can no longer remember - do their best with the characters assigned to them, neither is given much chance to expand beyond the stereotypical confines of their respective roles.
When it comes to all those involved in this film, I suspect that Jennings isn't the only one here working solely for the paycheck.
First, let me debunk the myth that this is "an awful movie" as I keep
reading because it has some interesting (albeit unoriginal) notions
and it often executes them well. More importantly, it will generally
keep you interested by navigating futuristic concepts in a
fast-spinning pace that will unable you to yawn or look at your watch.
Secondly, in spite of its technologically-ridden science fiction
premise, Paycheck does not fall prey to the fatal "style over
substance" crime because it at least tries, which is more than I can
say for its peers (Equilibrium, The Island, etc).
So the effort is at least there and 1/3 into the film, you feel that things are really well-sewn together when the plot starts unfolding. Then it completely falls apart. This is understandable, because it's pretty off-the-wall: Michael Jennings is an expert engineer hired by high-profile corporations for a reverse engineering technique which usually takes about 3-4 weeks depending on the task then his memory is wiped clean and he receives a big paycheck. Well, this process tears on him and when the opportunity for a big-budget, 3-year-long job presents itself as "the last job", Michael takes it. He also meets a girl during this time called Rachel (an unusually rough-looking Uma Thurman). With a clean slate post the completion of the job, Michael discovers that he has declined the paycheck and left an envelope for himself filled with clues as to what happened in the past and what lies ahead in the future.
It may sound intriguing but because this was originally written as a SHORT story by Philip K. Dick, all the characters are completely unexplored, flat and downright uninteresting. It does not help that Ben Affleck botches through the story with his usual puzzled look that only ever seems to fit in Kevin Smith productions. Thurman also inhabits a truly badly-written role here, and the banter between her and Affleck is self-referential in the most cringeworthy way (they quote their sappy first meeting, etc). They also mostly resort to meaningful glances to convey their love. That's the central performances for you, and sadly the ONE character that could have saved the others from the mud is Michael's buddy Paul Giamatti. Unfortunately he fades quickly and is later only ever used as a comedic sidekick to make up for the lack of clever things to say.
If you do not mind half-hearted acting from the leads, and perhaps you are only interesting in seeing this because it's a John Woo movie, then you will also be disappointed because there is little of Woo's dynamic, adrenaline-pumping, Mexican stand-off laden, martial arts-spinning action in this story. I remember one motorcycle chase that took me back to M-I-2 and strangely also The Bourne Identity (in which Matt Damon is being chased while on the search for his identity post-amnesia) but it was lacking in oomph; there is also a brief Woo-like face-off on the subway tracks between Affleck and the key henchman but this is the most daring John Woo will allow himself to get the rest of the time he blindly follows the standard formula for modern sci-fi/action fare. In other words, Affleck looks at an item in the envelope, has a startling revelation, sets out knowing exactly what to do and when to do it, being effortlessly aided by conveniently appearing objects and doors then some henchman interrupts him.
I think this is one of those films that continuity spies could OD on, because the plot really is thinner than an Olsen twin. For example, how could Michael be such an expert genius engineer if he keeps on erasing any technical information post completion of a work task? He'd have to start from scratch every time. You just have to look past the stupid goofs, the flat characters, the mediocre acting and the safe action if you want to enjoy Paycheck (2003) but then... there is not much left.
5 out of 10
I went in to this film with relatively low expectations. Other reviews I
read led me to believe that this was a cookie cutter, run of the mill,
for tv-esque amnesia story. Nothing could be further from the
The main plot of most amnesia types is trying to find out who they are and why someone erased their memory. With Paycheck, however, our protagonist already knows why his memory was erased, and since it's only been three years, he of course knows who he is.
The plot device is that at the end of this little memory wipe he's supposed to be 92 million dollars plus richer. Imagine his surprise when he finds out he's forfeit the money, and instead mailed himself some apparently worthless junk. Oh, and the company that hired him is trying to kill him.
This is what a Sci Fi movie should be, relying on an interesting premise, with future predictions based on current technology. Sci Fi is not space with explosions every five minutes.
Although there are a few minor plot holes, I found the movie very engaging, and thought the acting was competent, to say the least. Those who enjoyed Minority Report might also like Paycheck. It's worth a look.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Contains Spoilers normally, i don't bother with writing reviews online,
but this movie has inspired me. it's pure crap. one of the worst movies
i've ever seen. it just makes no sense.
first off, this movie is has a major identity problem? is it in the future?
they clearly have technology that doesn't exist, but the feds are still driving lincoln town cars? what gives? and what the hell movie are we watching anyway? minority report? mission impossible 2?
next let's talk about the premise of the movie. you shoot a laser around the universe and it comes back to you, only it brings with it tales of the future. possibly one of the most absurd things i've ever witnessed in a sci-fi movie. okay, so we'll just have to fall back on the old willing suspension of disbelief and enjoy the movie, right?
let's talk about the escape. why on earth did that guy light up a cigarette? he must have known that the smoke detector would go off, otherwise they wouldn't have bothered showing us that scene where ben and the bad guy were smoking cigars. how do sunglasses let you see through a cloud of halon gas? oh well, nevermind all that, just watch the movie and enjoy.
but wait, what about all those things in the envelope. if he could only get common, everyday items out, and they screened all his incoming and outgoing mail HOW THE HELL DID HE MAIL HIMSELF THE SECURITY KEY CARD? and why bother disguising the matches? and the ball bearings? obviously they had planned on using the ball bearings before they were in line at the security check. they could have gotten ball bearings anywhere. he didn't need to mail those. (5 stamps wouldn't have been enough to mail those ball bearings either, nevermind all the other stuff). ah well, i guess ben knows himself better than i do, so let's just assume he knew what he was doing and watch the movie.
which brings me to my next question. why didn't that guy just shoot ben in the train tunnel? oh right, so jon woo could put in his stupid point guns at each other scene. well at least we got that out of the way, right? let's just chalk that one up to self-indulgence on the director's part.
finally, something that makes sense. ben figures out what's going on and decides to destroy the machine. a good idea, given the circumstances. so when he finally gets there, WHY DOES HE START FIXING IT WHEN IT'S ALREADY BROKEN? screw it, it's an action movie, right? just watch and have fun.
so we're down to the last big fight scene. uma cranks up the wind machine while ben uses his mad ninja skills on the bad guys. the bad guys are getting blown around left and right and there faces are all smooshed like they are skydiving, and somehow ben is completely immune to the effect of said wind. more bad physics or has ben mastered some mystical ninja power that makes him immune to wind? why didn't mr. bad guy just shoot ben instead of getting in a fist fight with him? and WHAT GIVES WITH THE DOVE?
lastly, it's going to be awful hard to cash a $90M lotto ticket with the FBI looking for you.
please don't watch this movie.
This movie questions playing god with technology. In this case, the
technology provides the ability to forsee the future. Ben Affleck plays
Michael Jennings, a pretty suave computer engineer who hires out to various
technology companies seeking to improve their product. His work is so
promising that they require that his memory be erased, I suppose, so as not
to leak trade secrets. With the expectations of a lavish paycheck, Jennings
is willing to give up three years of his life to work on a top secret
project. Except, when the project is complete and the memory erased, he runs
into the snag--being out of cash and on the run from a fleet of wild gunmen
hired by the company.
It's a good story, and one reminscent of a good 50s episode of the Twilight Zone. You'll even notice some old noir camera effects such as Jennings staring into a mirror with the camera at a cocked angle as he tries to figure out his dilemma. The story is also reminscent of Memento, in that a person with no memory who has left himself clues must solve the mystery.
I was reluctant to find good in this movie before I had even seen it because of two reasons: Ben Affleck and John Woo. John Woo, though working with a good story, lays on thick those couple of minute action scenes with everyone coming so darn close (yet so far away) from getting their heads chopped off by flying cars and all that mess. It really wasn't pivotal to the story, nor to the mood, but understandably, it is the director's trademark. Ben Affleck was pretty much inconsequential in his role as Michael Jennings, playing the same charming nice guy character he always portrays in nearly every role he's been in. Uma Thurman, as Jennings girlfriend and Watson to Jenning's Sherlock, got some cheers from the theater, as most of her quick kung fu leg work and perfectly timed reactions manages to knock out a few of their armed adversaries.
But, despite the flack that Affleck gets, or misdirected Woo's (which is pretty much any John Woo film...at least according to Homer Simpson), this is a pretty good science fiction story. Especially, given that somewhat undermined, but valid, examination of the technology race and what it could mean for the future of mankind.
Don't let the naysayers keep you from giving Paycheck a look. I found it to be intelligent, inventive, action-packed fun. Ben Affleck does a very credible job playing a man that finds the secrets of new technology out for big paychecks and then has his memory erased. He is offered a huge amount to do just that but lose three years of his life in terms of what he remembers. Well, the film picks up quickly after the three years and Ben Affleck has been played foul by his employer or someone. The science fiction aspect is very involved but presented in a pretty comprehensible style. The film chronicles Affleck's collection of simple, every day items that have been sent to him by - himself - and each has a purpose he must soon discover. Director John Woo mixes lots of gritty, sometimes over-blown action sequences here and there(especially at the end), but they only enhanced the suspenseful nature of the film. The film works primarily because of its thoughtful, engaging script and the adequate acting of Affleck, Aaron Echhart, Colm Feore, sultry Uma Thurman, and always humorous Paul Giamatti. The profound(albeit somewhat lost in the action)lesson in the film's end resonated strongly for me and had me thinking about my future and OUR future here on planet Earth. If a film can do that, it can't be all that bad in my book. The film is based on the science fiction writing of Philip Dick, a great mind and perhaps a soothsayer to what lies ahead for all of us. A great theme for this film might be little things mean a lot OR thanks for the memories!
"Paycheck" is yet another adaptation of a Philip Dick short story that tones
down his political criticism and cynicism to make a sci fi adventure flick,
this time pretty much as an expensive and clever "McGyver" episode. You can
tell how this is expanded from a story where the hero had five items/clues
and now he has 20.
Ben Affleck is a bland Ken Doll of a hero, though Uma Furman has almost as much spunk as she did in "Kill Bill, Volume 1."
As a John Woo movie, of course the chase scenes are the best part. But the fight scenes are simply perplexing -- uh, why does Affleck's work out consist of electronic samurai stick fighting such that when the poorly-aiming bad guys all come at him with guns Uma throws him a stick to pick them off?
While I did see the movie on a scratchy print with tinny sound, I don't think that explained the confusingly bad continuity in the hair and make-up such that I thought they had been time-traveling at some tropical vacation in between scenes.
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