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REVIEW: Paycheck directed by John Woo

REVIEW SUMMARY: A good film if viewed the right way


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An Engineer is paid to steal designs and have his subsequent memories erased.


PROS: Great premise

CONS: Out-of-place action sequences; broken suspension of disbelief;

BOTTOM LINE: Concentrate on the story line and ignore the out-of-place action sequences.

After reading the excellent (5/5) short story by Philip K. Dick on which this was based, I was stoked to see the film version of Paycheck. Well, sort of stoked. I had already heard that the film was only loosely based on the story and there were already a plethora of mixed reviews for the film. Still, I was curious and had high hopes.

Ben Affleck plays Michael Jennings, an engineer who agrees to have his memory erased after stealing corporate designs through reverse engineering. After a 3-year job, a memory-wiped Jennings receives a bunch of ordinary items in lieu of his promised 8-figure paycheck. After being picked up by the F.B.I. and briefly interrogated he escapes. The everyday items he received as payment help him elude both the F.B.I. and the corporate bad guys and also help him fit the puzzle pieces together to figure out what happened.

The big appeal of this story for me was the premise. I found the idea of selling your time for money a compelling story idea. (How much would you accept to give up 2 months of your life’s memories? 2 years?) Add to that the mystery Jennings must unravel using these seemingly innocuous items, and the story idea intrigued me even more. But wait, there’s more! The lost memory is a great excuse to add Dick’s signature paranoia to the mix. This interesting situation was the main appeal of the short story as well.

However, the attraction of this premise was lessened by including too many out-of-place action sequences. Part of the problem with these sequences was that I just didn’t buy Affleck as the action hero (no, I did not see Daredevil). Also, most of the action sequences just seemed like off-the-shelf choreography. I can understand the current landscape of stunt one-upmanship in filmmaking today, but here it seriously detracted from the movie. Maybe more cerebral sparring was in order for an engineer?

And, as if that weren’t enough, some of the action just didn’t make sense. In one scene of remove-me-from-the-immersion action, a powerful wind machine is blowing around a bunch of bad guys. But Action Man Jennings is able to easily navigate through the windstorm and even bust a few heads while doing so. There are other things that bugged me along these lines, but mentioning them would reveal too much of the plot.

And about the plot?I found it different enough from the short story so as not to expect the same ending. In fact, Jennings’ motivation was different between story and film. Still, I did find the plot to be a bit predictable. To the film’s credit, one of the plot revelations is given at the movie’s midway point instead of trying to surprise the viewer at the end, an hour after he already figured that part out.

I found that if I concentrated on the storyline and took the action sequences (and the inevitable love story with Thurman?and the requisite Woo dove shot) with a glacier of salt, I enjoyed the film enough to call it good.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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