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Paycheck (2003)
(Release Date: 12/25/03)


1/2

Woo's Action, Dick's Prescience and Affleck's Smirk...

J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!


In the not too distant future, next Sunday A.D., there was a guy named Michael Jennings, not too different from Rafe or Gigli! He worked as a Reverse Engineer, taking existing products and remaking them better. What's different and mildly fascinating about this is that after each job his memory is systematically wiped to remove any chance of remembering of what he's done. This makes industrial espionage an impossibility. He's incredibly well paid for it, though, and that's what makes it all worth it. As brought to life by Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which became Bladerunner) this is more of the traditional edgy, yet believable realistic Sci-Fi which you might find in Minority Report or Total Recall it's usually going to be a fascinating read.

As brought to life by director John Woo and starring Ben Affleck as Jennings, we get more of an Action Film with plot contrivances and convenience and enough Hollywood to make you forget this film was shot in Vancouver. Oh, don't get me wrong, this is an Affleck film, and as such you can expect some of the big and dumb things that simply fall out of the sky here to move the plot along at a silly pace, however the source material and the supporting cast, not to mention a few surprises in the overall predictability make this a rather fun movie. It's not great, but it beats watching The Apprentice.

The main meat (such that it is) of Paycheck is that proverbial "one last big job before retirement". Jennings' old buddy Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart) offers him a three-year job (all of which will be wiped away from the book and volume of his memory) during which he'll participate in a super-secret project surrounding prediction and probability and receive a Paycheck so dag-nasty huge he'll never have to work again! In a minute (to him) he awakens to discover the job completed successfully.

However, instead of his bank account bigger than Bilbo's Belly he finds a single brown envelope filled with nineteen clues that he has to figure out for his own good. What follows is Jennings being chased by both the FBI and Rethrick's agents, and a gradual reconstruction of three years of life and intrigue! Hardly worth it? Well, the life part also contains three years of Sex with Uma Thurman! Might I say that's worth remembering? Might I add, hell yeah it is!

It's actually more fun to watch this movie than I thought it was going to be. On one hand there are more holes in this plot than in your average hunk of Swiss Cheese, and some you could drive a Novelty Dildo through without discomfort. However, it's pretty interesting seeing how these 19 clues (and a twentieth waiting for discovery) all come together in a nifty little progression. Some of the time the use of these tools seems contrived and uncommonly ridiculous (probably only thrown in because they liked having all 19 clues used somehow), but at other times, Eureka! It's a mixed bag (or should I say envelope) of puzzle pieces, but when they get it right, it works.

Ben "I Can't Act" Affleck hasn't been this convincing in any role since he played "Himself" on Project Greenlight! No compliment there! He essentially plays Jennings for the wide-eyed confused kid to the point that when the Plot calls for his easily and immediately working out the solution to the problem, it's about as easy to believe as the claims on a Four A.M. Infomercial for Weight Loss! He's still Smirky and self-assured here (in spite of the fact that his last release was Gigli) and it's clear he's not over being People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive at the time of filming. However, he's not all that bad, and like other unmentionable actors he fills a space and neither owns the role, nor destroys it. Ethan Hawke

The supporting cast, however, it pretty notable, even when they're doing a corn-ball part of a Corn-Ball scene in an overall corn-ball movie. Joe Morton is most notably the good actor misused here. His character of FBI Agent Dodge is different in every scene and goes from laugh-out-loud buffoonery to plot-assisting proficiency! This is less his fault than Screenwriter Dean Georgaris' but you have to think he wanted to slap his agent! Colm Feore also slums it here as Rethrick's right hand hit man! Why they chose a guy who looks like the dad on Family Ties without the beard to play the heavy makes about as much sense as casting George Clooney as Batman does, but he's as good an actor here as he ever is. Likewise Paul Giamatti, Peter Friedman and Six Feet Under's Michael C. Hall do a good job with what they're given, albeit not much! Even Kathryn Morris of CBS' Cold Case and fellow Dick adaptation Minority Report gives us a brief yet sexy Cameo. She makes out with Affleck early on, as does Uma Thurman, all the while I was wishing some plot point would require them to make out with each other... but, noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! It's Uma Thurman who shines here the most offering up the best acting of the whole film. She looks hot and actually manages to pull out some of the better scenes from what she has to work with. Her character of Dr. Rachel Porter is more than just the Charlie's Angels factor here, and clearly has more brains than Jennings does from stem to stern.

John Woo is always incredible with the action, but here the Action isn't always warranted. When the action doesn't get in the way of what could be an intelligent part, Woo shows his limitation in interpersonally directing Actors. Combined with Georgaris' script you get a situation where Amnesiac Affleck will suddenly have moments of accidental clarity during which he'll pull of a miracle action scene, only to bounce back like "Li'l Bow Wow" in Like Mike and exclaim "How'd I Do That?" Don't get me wrong, Woo is still a terrific director in so many cases, but here you have to wonder if he really expected you to buy in to some of this Hockey. It makes more sense than the best part of MI: 2, but that's a back handed compliment at best!

Three and One Half Stars (Out of Five) for Paycheck. I pulled off a half a star for Affleck, bringing us down to 3, but then slapped it back on because of Thurman! She makes it better, and aside from a pat Hollywood ending and more silliness than that Putty that comes in the plastic egg, it's really not a bad film by any means. It won't hit your top ten list, but it's not even in the bottom 100! Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for Jersey Girl! Affleck sucks less with Smith.

What do you mean it's out of Theatres already?

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Paycheck (2003) Reviewed by J.C. Mašek III
who is responsible for his own views and for his mind wipe covering the period of April 23, 2004 to April 26, 2004.
That was Drink-related, though!
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By the way, I just watched Face/Off again this past weekend, and you know what? In hindsight... not a great movie. Good, fun, but... damn!