Starring: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton, Michael C. Hall
Directed By: John Woo
Written By: Dean Georgaris
Rating: PG-13 (US) Running Time: 1 hr 59 min
It’s surprising sometimes how your opinion of a movie evolves over time. Back in 2003 when I first saw Paycheck, I honestly enjoyed it. I acknowledged a few flaws here and there but on the whole, I thought it was a decent sci-fi action yarn. Fast forward to 2015 – Paycheck is now one of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen. 119 minutes of my life, lost forever!
So what happened? Have I become cynical in my old age? Or perhaps I’m just more demanding and analytical after watching so many movies over the years. Is it too much to ask for a film to operate logically within the universe established in the story?
The problems with Paycheck start after the opening act, which to be fair, does adequately set up a man called Jennings (Ben Affleck) as a super clever reverse engineer who helps companies steal other company’s new tech. It also has an interesting premise, in that your standard non-disclosure agreement is replaced with a mandatory memory wipe! So far so good. Cool visuals and a high-concept science fiction premise sourced from a Philip K. Dick novel, starring Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman and Aaron Eckhart*. Organized by one of the best action directors alive, John Woo.
Then the second act starts, and we’re treated to a torrent of plot holes and terrible dialog. Stupid contrivances move the story forward – like when Rachel (Uma Thurman) discovers a message from Jennings on her bathroom mirror, and then inexplicably leaves it there! Revealing our heroes location, which results in yet another over-the-top barely coherent action set piece. As we yet again have to watch corrupt tech company’s goons**, who can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn, open fire in crowded malls and restaurants. Seemingly trying to kill Jenning’s and anyone associated with him – but then utterly failing to accomplish this task when there’s an opportunity for yet another bullshit Mexican standoff, and more idiotic monologuing!
Then there’s the central driving force behind all this moronic mayhem. [ Spoilers follow] A device that can shoot an advanced laser around the universe and let you see into the future. What? It takes 8 minutes and 20 seconds for our Sun’s light to travel to Earth. And as far as I can remember, laser light is still, you know – light! I know a little suspension of disbelief is required for films like this, but come on, that’s just insulting! This however, is just the tip of the ‘crap-berg’ when it comes to the litany of bizarre actions taken by the characters in the film, and the many contrivances and plot holes worked into into the screenplay by Dean Georgaris.
* Who have either been Batman, or starred in a Batman movie.
** What tech company hires gun-toting thugs? Does Apple have an iThug division? I bet their uniforms and guns look amazing!
If you can, as they say, ‘turn your brain off.’ Then do it, and you might find something to enjoy in this movie. Paycheck is rated PG-13, so the violence never gets too graphic.
I honestly prefer the films John Woo made before he was lured to Hollywood. Films like The Killer and Hard Boiled are superb examples of great action direction. And while Paycheck has a couple of big set pieces, this film’s action is muted by that horrible PG-13 rating. A HD screening at home on a TV will service this film well enough. You might miss some details trying to watch this on a tablet or phone.
Worst Moment: << spoilers >>
Jennings wants to destroy the machine he built. So he straps a single bullet to the last arm of the machine’s cooling system (there are six arms). Thereby giving everyone ample time to do what ever they want as we slowly and painfully watch one cooling arm after another fire into place. It’s the kind of insultingly obvious plot device that you’d expect in an old Batman TV show episode – not a major Hollywood production directed by John Woo.