Main cast: Ben Affleck (Michael Jennings), Aaron Eckhart (James Rethrick), Uma Thurman (Rachel Porter), Paul Giamatti (Shorty), Colm Feore (Wolfe), and Joe Morton (Agent Dodge)
Director: John Woo
Paycheck is no more absurd than last year's Minority Report, another movie adaption of a Phillip K Dick work, but because Ben Affleck is no Tom Cruise and John Woo is no Steven Spielberg, watch as Payback is ripped to shreds while Minority Report is considered a classic. While Payback doesn't have a slick production like Minority Report, at least John Woo isn't pretending that his movie is anything but crowd-pleasing fluff. This element of unpretentiousness is what allows me to enjoy Paycheck more than the errorneously self-important Minority Report.
This movie is set in the future where our hero Michael Jennings uses his affinity for taking apart things and putting them together again to become a very rich and successful reverse engineer. He takes apart a gadget, learns how it operates, and designs a better improvement of this gadget for the rival company of the manufacturer of this gadget. There is a twist in his career: after every successful operation, his employers wipe out his memory so that he will not remember what he did for them. This is a ridiculous system that, should it be abused, will create havoc, and it does. I only wonder why it takes someone this long to screw Michael over.
The great screw comes in the form of James Rethrick, supposedly Michael's buddy, offering Michael a sum of around nine million dollars if he can work on a top secret project. Michael agrees, and the next thing he knows, he is still seated at the same table but Rethrick tells him that three years have passed and he has already completed the project. Thinking that all is well, he is shocked to learn that he has given away his money and worse, government agents are after him while shady men want him dead. All he has to piece together what happened in the last three years are twenty items in an envelope left by him sometime in those three years for him to use now. He has an ally in researcher Rachel Porter whom he vaguely remembers as being madly in love with.
The plot of the movie is pretty stupid, especially when the project Michael worked on is revealed. But it's actually no dumber than a movie where the plot revolved around three inert psychics predicting crimes that will happen in the future. Ben Affleck has his irritating smugface moments, and there are times when I wonder how the screen doesn't explode under the weight of having two unbearably boorish actors - Affleck and Eckhart - whose expression range apparently consists only of Smug and Scowl. Still, Affleck manages to tone down his smugness during some scenes with Uma Thurman, instead coming off like a lovelorn romantic, and I find myself warming up to him in those scenes. Uma Thurman looks like she needs to watch her hair now and sometimes she acts as if she's high on some dubious substance (check out her laugh during that scene where her character drenches Michael in the lab), but her character kicks ass and so she's alright.
John Woo practises admirable restrain this time around after the pyrokinetics overkill in his previous action flicks, and he uses only a dove in one single scene, thank you. This restrain is his downfall though - Paycheck's denouement is laughable and worse, preachy. I don't need to hear Michael utter profound statements like "If we know our future, we have no future", I want to see him kick ass, and there is just not enough ass-kicking in Paycheck.
On a fundamental level, I have a great time watching Paycheck. After all, it's a movie about breaking things and kicking asses, so what's the problem, right? Heck, I even enjoyed movies like Johnny Mnemonic in the past, which probably reveals more about my taste than anything else. But at the same time, with better movies of this sort floating around (Cypher, for example), it is disappointing that Paycheck doesn't try to be any better. Therein lie the difference between this movie and Minority Report: this movie doesn't try to do anything more than to entertain me, while the other movie tries so hard to be moralistic, preachy, and important, just like every dud put out by Spielberg after he won that stupid Oscar for Schindler's List. Both movies are of the same level in entertainment factor, although Minority Report is more slickly produced and looks nicer. But I like Paycheck more because it isn't a pompous blow-hard self-important movie - it is a movie that is nothing more than (ahem) a Paycheck for everyone involved in the making of the movie.
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