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Paycheck

Paycheck

Genders: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Mystery

Director: John Woo

Writer: Philip K. Dick, Dean Georgaris

Actors: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Michael C. Hall

Year: 2003
Run time: 1h 59min
IMDB score: 6.1
Updated: one year ago

Movie infomation

Movie name: Paycheck

Genders: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Mystery

Imdb Score: 6.1

Runtime: 1h 59min

Released: 25 Dec 2003

Director: John Woo

Writer: Philip K. Dick, Dean Georgaris

Actors: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Michael C. Hall

Box Office: $53.7M

Company: Paramount Pictures

OfficialWebsite

Imdb Link

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Trailer


Review

Good action but the gimmick is difficult to accept because it continually forces you to accept it

5/10 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.

one year ago

Minority Report meets The Bourne Identity meets... hack producers and plain bad writing

5/10 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

one year ago

Intriguing premise is made mildly enjoyable, but ultimately unsatisfying.

5/10 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.

one year ago

Better than expected action / sci fi flick

6/10 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 cliched camera-work, but nevertheless tells a good story and does it well enough.

one year ago

some clever plotting done in by man-on-the-run cliches

5/10 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 cliches. 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.

one year ago