Paycheck review by Mike Long

I'm typically not one to pick on ironic movie titles, as they are usually obvious to everyone and a target which is far too easy. Still, I must say that it's unfortunate that Ben Affleck, an actor which many consider undertalented and overpaid, would make a movie entitled Paycheck. I certainly can't knock him for wanting to try something different, but in making a film with that title, he should've ensured that it was the greatest movie ever made. But, it's not.

In the science-fiction film Paycheck, Affleck stars as Michael Jennings, who is a reverse engineer. Companies pay him handsomely to create products using pre-existing technology, and then erase his memory, so that he has no recollection of having worked on the project. Thus, Michael leads an odd life, living from paycheck to paycheck, confiding only in his friend, Shorty (Paul Giamatti). For his latest assignment, Michael has agreed to work for his old friend Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart). The job could last as long as three years, none of which Michael will remember, but the payoff will be millions of dollars.

In an instant, the time is up, Michael has finished the project, and doesn't remember a thing about it. But, when he goes to collect his paycheck, he instead finds that he has sent himself an envelope containing 20 seemingly random items. Meanwhile, Rethrick learns that Michael has sabotaged the project, and sends his men to find Michael. Now Micheal is on the run along with scientist Rachel (Uma Thurman), a woman that he doesn't remember being in love with, and must use the contents of the envelope to elude capture and try to remember his past.

Paycheck is an odd movie that can't decide exactly what it wants to be. This indecision leaves us with a film which is entertaining, but offers little substance. Paycheck's main problem is that it tries to be too many things at once. The film is based on a short story from famed sci-fi author Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report), and the film shares themes with Total Recall, which was also based on Dick's work. The movie has some science-fiction touches, for example, the memory erasing and the project on which Michael was working, but it doesn't really have the look and feel of sci-fi movie. Michael's use of the objects in the envelope to save himself and regain his memory has a very film noir film and could have come straight out of any pulp novel. Paycheck was directed by action veteran John Woo, and while there are a few good action scenes, the movie plays more like a thriller than an action movie. Woo himself states that he wanted the movie to have a Hitchcock feel. All of these elements are fine in their own right, but they just don't gel in this movie. The action scenes are OK at best, and the sci-fi elements seem very rehashed. Only the use of the envelope and Michael's need to discover the proper use for each item is truly interesting, as it reminded me of an "Encyclopedia Brown" story, or perhaps the premise for a video game. If you allow yourself to become involved in Paycheck, you'll be playing the game along with Michael and thinking, "Now what can this paper-clip be for?"

The film is also marred by the lackluster screenplay by Dean Georgaris. There are some clues given at the outset which ultimately rob much of the film of any suspense. And despite a decent performance by Aaron Eckhart, Rethrick has to be one of the most underwritten characters ever. Beyond simple greed, we're never sure what motivates him and it's unclear just how evil he really is. The oft-maligned Mr. Affleck does just fine in the film, combining the action-star chops that he's been honing as of late with the laid-back charm which he displays in his indie comedies. Michael is simply an engineer who is caught in a deadly game of espionage and Affleck is fine in relaying his emotions to the audience. Uma Thurman is fine in her role, but she really isn't in the film all that much. Paycheck isn't necessarily a bad film, and it can be quite entertaining while you're watching it, but you won't need to have your memory erased to immediately forget about it.

Paycheck cashes in on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film is being released in two separate forms, one widescreen and the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Say what you will about Paramount's films, but their DVDs consistently deliver quality. The image here is very sharp and clear with the grain standing out only upon close inspection. The colors are very good and the dark shades look realistic. There is some noticeable edge enhancement, but the artifacting is kept to a minimum. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which delivers as well. The dialogue is clear and sharp, and the sound effects are fine. The surround sound effects are constant and impressive and the subwoofer response often rocked the room. Overall, a very good transfer.

This "Special Collctor's Edition" Paycheck DVD has several extra features. We start with an audio commentary from director John Woo. This is a fairly straight-forward talk, as Woo discusses the actors, performances, special effects, locations, and shooting. He talk is good-natured, but relatively free from asides or jokes. Next, there is a commentary from screenwriter Dean Georgaris. His talk is somewhat stoic as well, and he clearly takes this material very seriously. He talks much more about the story than Woo, but does mention the production at times. "Paycheck: Designing the Future" (18 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers behind-the-scenes footage, clips from the film, and comments from the cast & crew. This segment looks the story, the casting, and the production design of Paycheck, as well as Woo's style. "Tempting Fate: The Stunts of Paycheck" (17 minutes) is a very in-depth look at the 3 major stunt sequences in the film, with on-set footage, storyboards, and rehearsal footage. The DVD contains 6 deleted/extended scenes, which log in at 10 minutes (with a "Play All" feature). There is some interesting stuff here, but it's obvious why it was cut. Finally, we have a 2-minute alternate ending, which isn't all that different from the ending of the final cut, but has a slightly different tone.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

blog comments powered by Disqus