Paycheck (2003)

Rolling Stone: TV Guide:

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Paycheck is one of those good Sci-Fi movies that totally misses the mark.  A brilliant idea that is doomed by the lackluster performances of decent actors and shoddy directorial work by a great director.  I loved the story but hated the execution.  

I'm no fan of Ben Affleck, but I don't hate him or drag his personal life into my opinion of him as an actor.  I've liked him in most of the films I've seen him in.  I have never seen Uma Thurman give a bad performance, and I loved her so much in Kill Bill that my already positive opinion of her has increased significantly.  And except for Broken Arrow, his first American offering, I have loved every film John Woo has ever made and consider his unique style and thematic elements to be some of the best archetypes of the action film genre.  

Philip K. Dick stories have, in the past, been brought to the screen with great success by tier 1 directors such as Ridley Scott (Bladerunner) and Lord Spielberg (Minority Report.)  The story for Paycheck holds all the promise of it's predecessors.  Michael Jennings is a highly sought after reverse-engineer who has no issues with copying technological breakthroughs for unscrupulous companies and then having all memory of the work he does erased from his brain - if the paycheck is good.  (oddly enough the "paycheck" he receives at the beginning of the film for creating a completely holographic display monitor is insanely low)  His current assignment is will require a 3 year commitment and will pay $90 million.  He takes the job and completes it but for some reason (that I never did understand) in lieu of the $90 million payday he instead takes custody of an envelope that contains 19 clues he will need to figure out what he did for the last 3 years and destroy whatever "it" is he created.  Sounds cool right?

It is!  The idea that is.  The movie unfortunately is not that cool.  The "future" special effects are mediocre, the action is boring and unimaginative, and the acting is only slightly better than an Ed Wood film.  Let's break this down into it's three failures:

  1. The film takes place in what I assume is the slightly distant future when erasing memories is a viable business practice.  Unfortunately nothing in the film seems all that futuristic.  By contrast, almost everything in Minority Report seemed future-y.  I assume this story took place about the same time but the cars, motorcycles, buildings, clothes, and technology all appear to be contemporary to 2004 or even the past?  

  2. This was my biggest disappointment.  The action was terrible.  This is a John Woo film and the action was terrible!  John Woo directed Mission Impossible 2, Face/Off, A Better Tomorrow and the two pillars of the Hong Kong action flick genre The Killer and Hard Boiled.  At the very least I expected a brilliant chase scene, a slow motion action sequence set to pretty music with a white dove, and hardcore multiple two fisted gun fights!  All I got was the dove.  The chase scene is slow, boring and unoriginal and there was no two fisted gun-fight!  I do not understand why Woo has forsaken his own style.  It makes no sense.

  3. I'm not a big critic of acting.  An actor almost has to go out of his or her way for me to notice bad acting.  Because I watch a lot of B movies I'm pretty immune to it.  But for some reason, Affleck, Thurman, and everyone else in this cast seemed to be making a conscious effort to give the worst acting performances of their careers.  The only explanation for their dry boring "Saturday Night Live" cue card-type delivery is that the screenwriter (if there was one) must have been composing dialogue right there on the set and feeding it to them seconds before they spoke the lines.  Even during the chase scenes there is never any emotional investment.  It's as if the end of the scene is their actual motivation.  I've never seen anything like this in a big budget movie.

I've written enough here.  All in all this movie was a two star film at best that earned an extra star from me just because it's a Sci-Fi movie and I applaud any effort to bring more Sci-Fi to the screen.  Some night if you're drunk and alone it might be worth catching on HBO or something.