Review by Paul Stathakis | 2003

Let’s face it, John Woo got lucky with “Face/Off.” The film contained a fairly original premise, decent dialogue, fun characters played by a solid cast, and exciting action sequences. Since then, Woo has continued to contribute to the action genre, creating some of the biggest disappointments like “Mission: Impossible 2” and “Windtalkers.” But “Paycheck” is the real Woo dud, the real miss, the mistake of all mistakes. Watching this film, we really get the feeling Woo doesn’t care about his audience anymore.

Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is a computer reverse-engineer hired by huge corporations to complete top-secret projects. But the science kicker: every time he completes a job, his memory is erased to meet with strict company confidentiality agreements. He never remembers his work but always receives a large paycheck for it. But when Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), the head of the mistrustful company Allcom, hires Jennings for a three-year assignment to track down a machine that can see into the future, he promises him a larger-than-usual salary. Jennings accepts, completes the mission, gets his memory wiped, and awakens to learn that he has agreed to forfeit all his money for an envelope filled with 19 personal items.

The fun part is that Jennings doesn’t remember anything. He doesn’t recall the terms of the deal and doesn’t understand why Federal agents, including Rethrick, are pursuing him. But what Jennings doesn’t know is that the 19 items are all that stand between proving himself innocent and preventing a catastrophic disaster.

“Paycheck” is loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the author of “Blade Runner”, “Total Recall”, and “Minority Report”. Entering this movie, I thought to myself: a) John Woo is the master of action, b) Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, and Aaron Eckhart aren’t the worst actors around, and c) Dick’s fiction is usually exhilarating. I tried setting myself up for a good time before “Paycheck” even started.

This 119 minute lackluster action sci-fi tale is nothing more than shameful and just plain bad. It is a movie built around a smart concept. The first 20 minutes are actually fun, but the problem comes in when “Paycheck” starts trying to be smarter than it already is. The 19 clues are intriguing at first; they help Jennings get around. But this idea becomes tiresome and corny. Woo spends his time placing Affleck in daring situations only to let him get away in an exaggerated manner. Here is a film that tries to be original in its intentions but fails on all fronts.

The action is limited too, which is more of a disappointment than a surprise. With Woo, we expect breathtaking explosions and chilling chases. He packed “Face/Off” with some of the best pyrotechnics and even gave “Mission: Impossible 2” some life with his action skills (as stretched as they were). But in “Paycheck” there are only two main chases: one on-foot and another on a BMW motorcycle. I’ll admit that the motorcycle scene was fun, but the film can’t live off one great moment. It spends the rest of its time making us laugh, involuntarily.

It always pains me to see films like “Paycheck” throw away a good story and turn it into messy cheese. I wanted to like this movie and left the theater mocking every bit of it. Maybe I’m being a tad too cruel or harsh but I won’t dare praise a movie that lacks characterization, dialogue, and sci-fi logic. By the time the film came to an end, I wanted to be the one strapped to a chair waiting to have my memory wiped.


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