First, let me debunk the myth that this is "an awful movie" as I keep
reading because it has some interesting (albeit unoriginal) notions
and it often executes them well. More importantly, it will generally
keep you interested by navigating futuristic concepts in a
fast-spinning pace that will unable you to yawn or look at your watch.
Secondly, in spite of its technologically-ridden science fiction
premise, Paycheck does not fall prey to the fatal "style over
substance" crime because it at least tries, which is more than I can
say for its peers (Equilibrium, The Island, etc).
So the effort is at least there and 1/3 into the film, you feel that things are really well-sewn together when the plot starts unfolding. Then it completely falls apart. This is understandable, because it's pretty off-the-wall: Michael Jennings is an expert engineer hired by high-profile corporations for a reverse engineering technique which usually takes about 3-4 weeks depending on the task then his memory is wiped clean and he receives a big paycheck. Well, this process tears on him and when the opportunity for a big-budget, 3-year-long job presents itself as "the last job", Michael takes it. He also meets a girl during this time called Rachel (an unusually rough-looking Uma Thurman). With a clean slate post the completion of the job, Michael discovers that he has declined the paycheck and left an envelope for himself filled with clues as to what happened in the past and what lies ahead in the future.
It may sound intriguing but because this was originally written as a SHORT story by Philip K. Dick, all the characters are completely unexplored, flat and downright uninteresting. It does not help that Ben Affleck botches through the story with his usual puzzled look that only ever seems to fit in Kevin Smith productions. Thurman also inhabits a truly badly-written role here, and the banter between her and Affleck is self-referential in the most cringeworthy way (they quote their sappy first meeting, etc). They also mostly resort to meaningful glances to convey their love. That's the central performances for you, and sadly the ONE character that could have saved the others from the mud is Michael's buddy Paul Giamatti. Unfortunately he fades quickly and is later only ever used as a comedic sidekick to make up for the lack of clever things to say.
If you do not mind half-hearted acting from the leads, and perhaps you are only interesting in seeing this because it's a John Woo movie, then you will also be disappointed because there is little of Woo's dynamic, adrenaline-pumping, Mexican stand-off laden, martial arts-spinning action in this story. I remember one motorcycle chase that took me back to M-I-2 and strangely also The Bourne Identity (in which Matt Damon is being chased while on the search for his identity post-amnesia) but it was lacking in oomph; there is also a brief Woo-like face-off on the subway tracks between Affleck and the key henchman but this is the most daring John Woo will allow himself to get the rest of the time he blindly follows the standard formula for modern sci-fi/action fare. In other words, Affleck looks at an item in the envelope, has a startling revelation, sets out knowing exactly what to do and when to do it, being effortlessly aided by conveniently appearing objects and doors then some henchman interrupts him.
I think this is one of those films that continuity spies could OD on, because the plot really is thinner than an Olsen twin. For example, how could Michael be such an expert genius engineer if he keeps on erasing any technical information post completion of a work task? He'd have to start from scratch every time. You just have to look past the stupid goofs, the flat characters, the mediocre acting and the safe action if you want to enjoy Paycheck (2003) but then... there is not much left.
5 out of 10
Action / Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Action / Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Michael Jennings is a reverse engineer and what he does is technical jobs for certain companies and as soon as he is done, his memory of the work he has done is wiped out. Now the longest he has been contracted is 2 months. But now billionaire, James Rethrick offers him a job that would last 2 years, maybe 3, and he promises that he will probably earn 8 figures. Michael agrees. Before beginning he turns in all of his personal effects. And when the job is done, his memory is erased and he learns he made over 90 million dollars over the three years. When he goes to claim it and his personal effects, he discovers that prior to the erasure of his memory he waived his rights to the money he earned and that the items that were given to him were not the ones he gave when he began. Later he is arrested by the FBI who say that he committed some act of treason and murder. It's while he is in custody that he escapes using some the items that he was given. He later meets with a friend who gives ...
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