Reviewed by: Ed Cox
Starring: Ben Affleck, John Davis, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti | Directed by: John Woo | Produced by: Michael Hackett, John Woo, Terence Chang, John Davis | Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Paycheck (based upon Phillip K. Dick’s short story of the same title)—Ben Affleck plays the main character Michael Jennings in a movie advertised in the same breath as “MI-2,” “Minority Report” and “Blade Runner”. Michael is a “for hire” intellectual property thief, taking the best of a competitor’s product, reverse engineering same and coming up with the competitive answer. When finished, he has his memory “fried” for reasons not clearly outlined in the movie; everyone else gets to remember his fine works, but all he gets is a paycheck.
The story picks up the pace when he agrees to take on a two-year project, something with “fiber optics.” Upon completion, he finds he has renounced his massive promised payout, only receiving an envelope of common pocket items. Add in the fact that the big corporation wants him removed to ensure the secrecy of his work, and the plot begins to congeal.
The basic premise of the movie suffers when one considers the morality of it. Michael Jennings is a thief, one that steals the works of others with the end result causing material harm to the innovator. Michael does decide during the chase that he would prefer to not to be a bullet magnet, but there is never any resolution on the issue of theft.
Michael and his girlfriend Rachel (Uma Thurman) room together during the three year project, but this never enters into the main story as that period of time is only referenced, not presented in the film. Michael and Rachel are shown in bed together (sheets between them), as he awakens her while signing Happy Birthday. One kiss and one provocative evening gown is about as racy as this one gets.
God’s name is taken in vain numerous times (which means moderate in Hollywood speak), offering nothing to the character’s development. There are a few other salty expressions, but nothing of what would be considered strong for its audience.
With John Woo as the director, you would be correct in expecting more than a little motion in the picture. The action is frequent, but there is more shattering glass than actual violence. The only blood shown is from a cut on Rachel’s hand after one altercation.
From a Christ-centered perspective, this is a fallen movie. The main character is a white collar thief, he lives with a woman whom he has not married (although they are referred to as “engaged”), and there is never any remorse for any harm done.
There is one scene where there are visual, mystic religious references (e.g., palmistry); these are offered up as what Michael Jennings does to receive guidance before an important decision, but they never receive center stage in the movie. The whole scene is no more than 15 seconds, but the image is still there.
This film could have been shot at the local lumberyard, for this film is rife with wooden performances. Ben Affleck is never one that can reach out through the camera and grab the audience. Uma Thurman is not on-screen long enough to establish her character and Aaron Eckhart as the bad guy only glares evil . With only three actors sharing the screen for most of the film, the money that was saved went into the “Woo” factor.
The action part of the film plays like a “Mission Impossible” prequel, as if they were on a tighter timetable and budget while figuring out what the real film could be. Some very nice driving sequences (if you like your BMW car with two wheels missing), but nothing that hasn’t been done before.
I saw this movie in a very comfortable theater, yet found myself wiggling in the chair with impatience. The plot was only so-so (why erase only one participants memory), the score was invisible (explosions were used to set the mood) and the acting was uninspired (“we are the sum of our experiences”). When viewing a film, you are moved by what you see and what you hear; with the components that were offered up, they withheld too much out of this Paycheck.
Violence: Moderate | Profanity: Moderate | Sex/Nudity: NoneYear of Release—2003