- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
as Ben Affleck been taking acting lessons? That’s doubtful, but he fares much better than usual as a man who can't remember his past in “Paycheck,” the latest from action director extraordinaire, John Woo. The thriller also marks the latest Philip K. Dick story to be adapted for the big screen, and though it doesn’t live up to some of the other films based on the author’s work (like “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall” or “Minority Report”), it's still a mildly entertaining slice of science fiction that’s anchored by some top-notch action.
Affleck stars as reverse engineer Michael Jennings, a technological mercenary for hire who creates top secret inventions for companies that pay him for the work and then erase the experience from his memory. After another successful job, Michael's longtime friend, Jimmy (Aaron Eckhart), offers him a new gig that lasts longer but comes with a larger paycheck – one big enough to ensure instant retirement. After completing the assignment, Michael heads to the bank to receive his check but finds that he has already forfeited his shares of the company and sent an envelope to himself containing 19 different items with no apparent connection. Caught in the middle of a conspiracy between his former employer and the government, Michael must use each item to help save his girlfriend (Uma Thurman) and himself from his future.
At its core, “Paycheck” is the kind of generic conspiracy thriller that Hollywood has been making for ages (think "North by Northwest" meets "Enemy of the State"), but the fact that it’s staged like a murder mystery makes it more fun to follow. The film does a good job of keeping its protagonist just as much in the dark as the audience and it utilizes each item/clue in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Though some may be turned off by the film’s science fiction elements, “Paycheck” really is a thriller first and a sci-fi movie second. That doesn’t mean that the sci-fi doesn’t factor heavily into the movie’s plot, but it’s never so overwhelming that non-fans of the genre will be completely turned off.
A big part of that is due to the fact that the movie doesn’t suffer from the same pacing issues typically associated with the genre. In fact, unlike some of the other films based on Dick’s stories, “Paycheck” doesn’t require the audience to sit through lots of boring exposition. Instead, we get a handful of stylized action sequences courtesy of Woo, not to mention some decent performances from Uma Thurman and Paul Giamatti. Ben Affleck is also surprisingly good in the lead role, though it’s hard to imagine the actor making much of a career as an action hero. The same can be said of Woo’s recent fall from grace as one of Hollywood's go-to action directors, because while “Paycheck” is certainly no “Face/Off,” it also isn’t the presumed death knell of his Hollywood career.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Paramount may be content with porting catalog titles over to Blu-ray with little more than a video and audio upgrade, but that’s not going to cut it for long. Though “Paycheck” does look noticeably better in HD, the difference is hardly worth a double dip, especially considering there’s no new bonus material. All of the extras from the original DVD release have been included – like audio commentaries with director John Woo and writer Dean Georgais, deleted and extended scenes, and a making-of featurette – but the only one of any merit is “Tempting Fate,” an in-depth look at the stunts in the film.