“No funny stuff! And by funny stuff I mean holding hands, googoo eyes, misdirected woo- which is pretty much any John Woo film.”
Yeah, I know, I quoted that Homer Simpson quip already in my Windtalkers review, but it unfortunately still applies. Who would have thought, back when Woo’s Hong Kong classics found their way into American video stores, that he’d end up making nondescript overblown Hollywood product?
There was actually potential for greatness in this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story: the sci-fi elements are interesting, with a glimpse of what future computers and gadgets might look like, and the premise is intriguing enough. Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is a reverse engineer whose work becomes the intellectual property of those who hire him, to the point where they wipe his memory once he’s done with a job. That’s fine by him, until the day where he “wakes up” from an assignment with no recollection of the past three years beside the impression that he helped create something horrible. Further worrisome is the realisation that he forfeited his 8-figure paycheck, leaving himself only an envelope with 19 seemingly random objects, and that both the FBI and hitmen are after him!
“Paycheck” is kind of like Total Recall, but with no “Get yohr ahss tu Mahhs”, or like a feature-length version of the precog escape scene in Minority Report with much less cleverness and excitement. Woo says the film is a tribute to Hitchcock, but while I can buy that M:I-2 was his “Notorious”, calling “Paycheck” his North by Northwest is the kind of stretch usually reserved to highly trained gymnasts.
What we do get here is plenty of chases, shoot-outs and fights that are flashy but not particularly impressive, especially by Woo standards. There’s also some space/time bullcrap, an underwritten romantic interest played by Uma Thurman, a little comic relief courtesy of Paul Giamatti and more holes in logic than in a third-grader’s explanation of Einstein’s theories. Oh, and there’s a gratuitous cameo by a white dove, naturally. This is the kind of movie you forget as soon as it’s over, but while it plays out it’s fairly painless.