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Paycheck, 2003

Starring: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman
Directed by: John Woo
Produced by: John Davis, Michael Hackett, John Woo, Terrance Chang
Written by: Dean Georgaris
Running Time: 118 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Michael Jennings (Affleck) is a reverse-engineer hired to work on a top-secret project. Once he’s through with the project his memory is wiped and he’s left with an envelope of personal items that begin to help him put together the puzzle of what happened in the three previous years and what fate awaits him in the future. Uma Thurman plays the brilliant scientist who helps Affleck and Aaron Eckhart plays his longtime friend and business partner.

Paycheck is a decent sci-fi flick, but something is lacking here. If you’re familiar with the work of John Woo (Mission Impossible 2, Face Off, Broken Arrow) then you won’t be surprised by the frenetic camerawork. However, all the panning, tilting and pulled focus makes it difficult to concentrate on the characters and spoils the tension that is necessary to make us worry about the characters.

Ben Affleck is serviceable in this film, but he coasts too much on good looks and boyish charm. There’s no complexity to his performance and despite the fact that he’s all over this film I’m always looking forward to seeing someone else (like Aaron Eckhart, Paul Giamatti or Joe Morton). I like Uma Thurman just fine, but I can see her mind working in every scene, so I tend to just look at her bod and wait for something to happen.

The screenplay for this film is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, one of my favorite authors. Dick is the mind behind Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. True to most stories by Dick, the main character in Paycheck must struggle with mind games and his perception of reality. The script for this film is fairly tight, as is necessary given the complexity of the ideas. The dialogue, however, is trite and doesn’t help the faxed in performances of Affleck or Thurman a bit.

This film is beautiful in it’s own way, but there’s almost too much production design. Everything is crisp and shiny and futuristic, like Gene Roddenberry’s wet dream. Affleck and Eckhart are straight off the cover of GQ magazine. This future is pretty, and that may point to the underlying problem I mentioned earlier. There’s too much attention placed on how everything and everyone looks and too little attention placed on the characters or why we should care what the fuck happens to them.

While Paycheck has some clever ideas and a few decent action scenes (but nothing spectacular, particularly coming from John Woo, who has really fallen off the horse since Hard Boiled) it suffers from the same thing the Tin Man lacked… a heart.

The DVD has some extra scenes that were not in the original movie, including a gem with Affleck and Eckhart that explains some of the motivational elements that this film desperately needed. There’s also a cut scene with Joe Morton that tells you why he becomes such a sympathetic character around the end of the flick. The decision to cut these two scenes tells me a lot about the priorities of Woo and addresses the issue of making this film a Tin Man. More extras include a commentary by Woo and writer Dean Georgaris, a featurette on the films design and another on the stunts in the film.

5 out of 10

Dig it!
-The Beefboy