Paycheck


Dir: John Woo
Star: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Colm Feore

Based on an early story by Philip K. Dick, this was less mind-binding than much of Dick's work, and most of the aspects are translatable to the screen in a straighforward fashion. Michael Jennings (Affleck) is an engineer, who works on highly-confidential projects: to ensure they remain that way, his short term contracts require the memory of the time spent with the client to be erased upon completion. Jennings is offered a much bigger payday by James Rethrick (Eckhart): give up three years of his life in exchange for eight figures worth of stock options. He agrees, but on completion, finds he signed away his shares not long before, and all he has for his troubles is an envelope of random junk - a fortune cookie, a bus pass, a pack of cigarettes, etc. - that he sent himself at the same time. When the FBI shows up, and his former employer starts trying to kill him too, it becomes clear that Jennings was, now unknowingly, involved in something very murky: he needs to find out exactly what, and the significance of the objects in the envelope.

This was Woo's first foray into true SF [we can probably discount Face/Off], and also the last movie he directed in America. These may not be unconnected, as the only moments of Woo-ness that shine through are almost self-parody; when the Mexican stand-off arrives, Chris snorted "Where are the slo-mo doves?" Lo and behold, they showed up a couple of minutes later. That's about the level of subtlety present here. There is some potential in the concept, and it could have been a sharply intelligent thriller, with the hero using his brain to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle fits together. However, what is delivered here is just another empty action movie, e.g. Jennings is trained in martial-arts, for no other reason than that it's necessary to the plot. Thurman shows up for even less purpose, and though the set-pieces are delivered with the level of well-executed gusto you'd expect, they are so bereft of emotional content as to feel more like trailer footage than elements in an actual film. If this is indeed the end of Woo's time in Hollywood, it marks a disappointing end to the decade.

C
[January 2013]


Poster makes about as
much sense as the plot
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