Seems the only reason for anyone turning up on set was to collect theirs...

Released in 2003, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 18 Jan 2004 by Craig Eastman
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Now that sci-fi's definitely back in vogue it's little wonder to find the Hollywood script hacks plumbing the back catalogues of the genre's literary alumni. What with the massive cult following of Blade Runner and the recent massive success of Minority Report, the estate of a certain Mr. Philip K. Dick must be rubbing it's collective hands in glee lately as the men in suits scrabble to option just about any of his immense back catalogue that can be salvaged into 90 minutes plus of vapid entertainment. Impostor anyone? Step forward Paycheck (sic, bloody Yanks), the latest Dick-inspired outing based on a short story of the same name and starring none other than our favourite floundering fish of the moment, Bennifer. Poor Mr. Affleck. What with the critical apocalypse of Gigli still ringing in his ears and the need for a bona-fide hit to regain his footing, one would have imagined he might have chosen something with a little more dramatic weight to cement his credibility. Alas Paycheck offers nothing other than the most mediocre of formulaic chase movie sensibilities, and while it might represent a perfectly serviceable Saturday night at the movies it sure aint the career lifeline our cheeky chappie needs.

Dick himself had reminisced in sleeve notes that the story is not one of his best, and certainly not the cerebral noodle-bender that was his trademark. Rather it was very much a case of "wouldn't it be interesting if...", and in fairness as such it does represent a better candidate for matinee success than some of his more meditative works. Essentialy a chase story, the premise is a simple but intriguing one. Affleck plays Michael Jennings, a talented young reverse engineer working for a corporation in the not too distant future. Locked in a room for two months at a time disassembling other people's technology to see what makes it tick, Michael improves on other people's designs and has his memory wiped at the end of it to protect the company's "intellectual property". When his friend and colleague James Rethrick (current LA Rent-A-Baddie favourite Aaron Eckhart) offers him an eight figure sum and company stock option to undertake a particularly arduous assignment, Michael is initially reluctant but accepts, consigning himself to three years of work and no recollection of his time in favour of the dirty great titular paycheck. Unsurprisingly, things turn slightly pear-shaped when Michael comes to and all manner of people from the CIA to the comapny he's working for start trying to kill him.

As you do, Michael has engineered a device based on another (and now decidedly deceased) scientist's design for a lens that (and I quote) can see around the curvature of the universe. The upshot of this? If you can see far enough round said curvature you eventually end up back where you started, viewing yourself, only in the future. Able to see events that will transpire and hence directly influence their outcome, Rethrick's company (and consequently Michael's stock holding) has skyrocketed in value. The strange thing is Michael has laready forfeited his shares and is now penniless. Clueless as to why he would do such a thing, Michael is left instead with an envelope, deposited by himself, full of seemingly mundane items

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Paycheck's high concept slant is that having seen his own death in the future, Michael has left himself these objects to aid his survival in the present. Only problem is, now that his memory is wiped he has no idea how and when to use them. So begins a fairly tepid chain of setpiece events in a number of contrived locations that sees Affleck pursued by the CIA and Rethrick's murderous goons, lead by the reliably evil-looking Colm Feore.

Along the way there's time for a couple of tame shoot-outs, an admittedly decent motorbike chase and several unusually reserved Woo-standoffs, all topped off with a little love interest in the form of Uma Thurman's Dr. Rachel Porter, the woman Michael has been living with during his three year tenure but has no recollection of (oh how we'd love an excuse like that, eh lads?). The recipe's certainly there for a decent enough thriller with plenty of scope for action and twists, but as with almost all of Woo's Hollywood output of late there's a distinct feeling the World's Greatest Living Action Director is treading water when he should be swimming furiously for shore. Are the studio execs too tame for the excessive bloodletting of his Hong Kong output, or has the great man simply mellowed in his old age? Which ever way you look at it, the placid nature of the action sequences belies the movie's certificate. What next? Woo does Disney?

Similar things could be said of Affleck who seems happy enough just to dart about looking mildly perturbed as people shoot at him, which seems odd for a man recently quoted as stating he needs to seize all the opportunities he can get to ingratiate himself with the public once more. His performance here does nothing to suggest why we should take him seriously as a leading man when the quality of support from Eckhart, Feore, Thurman and good old Paul Giamatti leaves him looking decidedly like taking fifth place in the roll of acting honours.

Perhaps I'm being harsh in highlighting Paycheck's inadequacies when in reality it's no better or worse than any other potboiler currently doing the rounds. It's just that with a story by Dick, Direction by Woo, a decent budget, support from Thurman and co. and a leading man who we know can do so much better it comes as a complete and utter drain of faith. Woo had better work harder if he wants to avoid DTV status and Affleck, well, let's just say at the moment he's living on borrowed time in a town with one hell of a short memory.

Disko has awarded Paycheck 2 out of 5 Fralcafranolicinisms.

John Woo
Cast list:
Ben Affleck (Michael Jennings)
Aaron Eckhart (James Rethrick)
Uma Thurman (Dr. Rachel porter)
Colm Feore (Wolfe)
Paul Giamatti (Shorty)