directed by John Woo
(Dreamworks, 2003)

I was excited to attend an advance screening of Paycheck three nights before its Christmas Day release; excited not only because of the trailer but mostly because the movie is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, whose writing has previously served as the basis for Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report.

Jennings, Ben Affleck's lead character, is a genius of reverse engineering, and the two-month jobs he gets always require the erasure of his memory afterwards. He gets a special three-year assignment on a major secret project, and at its conclusion when he goes to collect his "paycheck" he is told that (before his memory wipe) he declined the money and instead sent himself a package of about 20 mundane objects. He then spends the rest of the picture trying to figure out what happened during those three years, why he declined the money and what the knickknacks are for.

All the while, the company he worked for is chasing him to try to kill him and the FBI is in on the chase, too. Uma Thurman is Rachel Porter, the love interest.

The movie is everything you would expect from director John Woo, special effects and action sequences superbly done. I found it ultimately a major disappointment to see a clever plot concept by Dick used only as a vehicle for fistfights, gunfights and car chases. At one point I started amusing myself by counting the number of times someone crashed through a giant plate glass window -- after 10 I lost count. This should have been done as a Hitchcockian thriller with science fiction elements and we might have had a truly great movie. Instead it's more of a chase picture with science fiction elements and male and female leads a la Terminator 3. Oh well.

I must say that although I've never been that impressed by Thurman, between her recent publicity appearances for Kill Bill and her performance here she seems to have gotten a severe case of earthy sensuality (working on me anyway). She even gets to do some Kill Bill-style karate moves in Paycheck. Bennifer does a decent enough job in the lead role to perhaps help him rebound from Gigli. Paul Giamatti is good (as he always is) in a supporting role of Shorty.

But the scriptwriting was weak; I can never understand how the people who make movies can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on special effects, actors' salaries, craft service and the like and still pay so little attention to good writing. The dialogue in Paycheck is cringe-inducingly stupid at times. The music on the soundtrack is your basic standard action picture orchestration. Sadly, thumbs down.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 17 January 2004

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