January 09, 2004


The less you actually think about director John Woo's PAYCHECK, the more you'll like it. Only upon a logical dissection of this film loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (whose works have been turned into BLADE RUNNER, TOTAL RECALL, and MINORITY REPORT) do you start to get frustrated with the plot's gaping holes and utter lack of sense. If you simply choose to watch the movie and eat popcorn, you'll probably have a blast. Woo delivers what he tends to deliver on every film: top notch action. There's a motorcycle chase here that I thought was better than the one in THE MATRIX RELOADED only because it wasn't done using special effects (as far as I could tell). What is missing from PAYCHECK that I tend to like in other Woo films is the psychological depth that he often breathes into his leads. There is next to nothing here that resembles character development because that would get in the way of the impressive explosions. I can live with that.

The performances are also exactly what is necessary. Ben Affleck plays Michael Jennings, a cocky reverse engineer for hire who disassembles the latest technology, figures out the secrets to how it works, and sells it to companies seeking to one-up the competition. Since this film is set a few years in the future, it is now possible to selectively erase memories. So once Jennings gets paid, he has his partner (the always reliable Paul Giamatti) erase the memory that he ever did the job. Typically these jobs only last a few weeks, so when Jennings is offered a three-year gig to reverse engineer for an old friend (Aaron Eckhart, who tends to excel at playing sleaze bags as he does here) for an astonishing high amount of money, he's hesitant but he's also greedy.

When Michael comes out on the other side of the three years, all hell breaks loose as certain men in black (headed by the extra creepy Colm Feore) are trying to kill him while certain other men in black (in this case, FBI agents Joe Morton and Michael C. Hall) are trying to capture him. Michael finds out that not only did he forfeit his roughly $95 million pay day, but that all he has to show for his three years is an envelope of 20 worthless items that he mailed to himself shortly before he was taken through the process to erase his memories. One by one, the items in the envelope (a watch, sunglasses, a silver dollar, a pack of ball barrings, a crossword puzzle, a magnifying glass, various keys, etc.) become useful to Michael in his efforts to escape capture and find out why he would have given up all that money. In many cases, it almost seems that he knows what's about to happen to him before it does. One thing he has forgotten is that during most of his missing three years he had a relationship with fellow scientist Uma Thurman, who later assists him in unlocking the secrets as to why his life has taken this strange turn. Needless to say, it doesn't take a genius to figure out how Michael knows what dangers are coming in his life, and the climax of the film dangles dangerously close to self-parody, but the fact remains that I had a great time allowing this movie's stupidity to sweep over me. Sometimes it's okay to empty your mind while watching a film. PAYCHECK is the best summer movie playing this holiday season.

Posted by sprokopy at January 9, 2004 02:56 PM