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Paycheck
Year: 2003
Director: John Woo
Producer: John Woo, Terence Chang, John Davis, Michael Hackett
Writer: Dean Georgaris, Philip K. Dick (original short story)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, Joe Morton, Colm Feore, Michael C. Hall, Emily Holmes, Peter Friedman, Jane Anderson, Kathryn Morris
The Skinny: Entertaining, efficient commercial cinema which is as digestible as strawberry Jello—just not as tasty. John Woo earns the film's namesake by crafting a ridiculous, but tight thriller which has no real flaws other than its all-too-noticeable lack of passion and creativity. Decent fun for those who like their films prepackaged by some guy in marketing.
   
Review
by Kozo:

John Woo directs Paycheck, a sci-fi action thriller which mines the short stories of Philip K. Dick, the celebrated author who also inspired such fine films as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. Those flicks featured futuristic visions that were both thought-provoking and rich with portentous detail. Paycheck gets on the thought-provoking train in the beginning, but before long it derails into an efficient, competent action thriller that's only a shade above all-out ludicrous. MTV junkies and fans of leading man Ben Affleck will likely find this to be a welcome diversion, but fans of John Woo and more discerning moviegoers may not be so charitable.

Affleck is Michael Jennings, a reverse engineer who takes hush-hush jobs from big corporations with the caveat that he will have his memory wiped when the job is over. He agrees to work for old buddy Jimmy Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), who hires Jennings for a three-year project that will pay megabucks. All Michael has to do is give up three whole years of his life, let those years get wiped from his mind, then sit back and enjoy the earnings.

It sounds almost too easy, which is exactly what it is. Jennings does awaken three years after the job is done, but he finds that his stock options were forfeited, apparently by himself. Bewildered, all he can do is follow nineteen clues delivered to himself in a paper envelope. The clues are innocuous everyday items—a cigarette lighter, a can of hairspray, a few keys and other assorted consumables—but there clearly is a purpose for each and every item in the envelope. With former buddy Rethrick now gunning for Michael's life, he must piece together his past, and hopefully discover why he gave up his massive payday in the first place.

Paycheck has a plot which can be easily spoiled, so explaining what happens in this film would get us a red flag warning from the Anti-Spoiler Coalition of America™. To avoid that, let's just cut straight to the chase: this movie is entertaining but bland as skim milk, which is probably the dairy equivalent of leading man Affleck. Paycheck's plot is deceptively puzzle-like, but everything falls into place with such rote efficiency that any and all surprise is relegated to a split-second of weightless wondering.

After certain plot points are dispensed (and Jennings' clues revealed), the film goes about its routine business, which means time for motorcycle chases, Affleck ass-kicking sessions, and blatantly literal pontificating on the perils of sci-fi. Nothing that happens is offensive or annoying, and the connecting of the dots makes for some intruiging storytelling. However, when the dots are connected, all you get is a straight line, and not a picture with even the bare minimum of complexity. Other works of Philip K. Dick provided meaty material to chew on, but Paycheck is ultimately pretty dry stuff.

Which brings us back to the man behind the camera: John Woo. Once Hong Kong's number one filmmaking export, Woo has since ditched his celebrated emotional themes and hyperkinetic camerawork for something far more powerful: marketing. Paycheck has great source material, a relatively hot leading man (this film was shot before Gigli was released), a respected leading actress (Uma Thurman, who struggles valiantly with a cardboard script), and a director who has shown that he can do some pretty cool stuff. Those elements do work together to form an entertaining enough package, but in the end that's all this is: a package.

Everything about Paycheck fits the Hollywood mold so perfectly that it could have been cooked up by any number of suits at a power lunch. Woo's action in Paycheck is far from the surprising hyperkinetic work that we're used to (ah, the power of PG-13), and it's even a step below the stuff that blew up in Mission: Impossible 2. Without John Woo to surprise us, all we're left with is the film's premise, which is interesting, but still surprises a lot less than it probably should. Paycheck lives up to its namesake by earning its creators one, and there are probably many moviegoers who will feel this film matches their dumbed-down Hollywood expectations. However, those who view John Woo as a beacon of cinematic quality might end up asking for a refund. (Kozo 2003)

   
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Paramount Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
English Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Various other extras
 
   
 
 
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