Paycheck

Though pulp sci-fi guru Philip K. Dick's amphetamine-fueled, mind-bending science fiction stories regularly seduce filmmakers with their cool, creepy premises, they rarely translate into satisfying feature-length films. For every haunting BLADE RUNNER (1982), there's a half-baked melange of goofball science and stuff blowing up like this. Brilliant reverse-engineer...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Though pulp sci-fi guru Philip K. Dick's amphetamine-fueled, mind-bending science fiction stories regularly seduce filmmakers with their cool, creepy premises, they rarely translate into satisfying feature-length films. For every haunting BLADE RUNNER (1982), there's a half-baked melange of goofball science and stuff blowing up like this. Brilliant reverse-engineer Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck, unpersuasive as a brainy techno-nerd) specializes in disassembling new high-tech gizmos and laying bare their innovations for the benefit of rival companies. Once he's done, his memory is wiped clean so he can neither benefit himself nor expose his shady employers. Lured by the promise of a multimillion-dollar paycheck, Jennings accepts a top-secret, three-year job for his old friend, megabillionaire Jimmy Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart). Moments later, it's 2007 and Jennings is shocked to learn that just a month earlier he forfeited every penny of his paycheck for an envelope full of junk — a paperclip, a mini can of hairspray, a cookie fortune, a half-finished crossword puzzle — that he mailed himself from Rethrick's corporate campus. Before Jennings can get his aching brain around that puzzler, he's arrested and accused of treason because of whatever he did for Rethrick. So far, so paranoid. But once Jennings starts McGuyvering his way out of trouble using items from his manila envelope of tricks, the story careens into a brain-dead end. Rather than exploit the unsettling implications of Jennings' realization that he somehow knew a month ago what was going to happen today, and left himself a series of coded messages that he must now decipher, the film mimics the goofiest kind of video-game narrative. With the FBI nipping at one flank and Rethrick's goons worrying the other, Jennings deciphers silly clues, uses them to progress to the next level of action-packed conflict and pieces together the larger back story, which involves averting a future apocalypse for which he helped lay the groundwork. That's a tall order for a man who can't even remember dating sexy biologist Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman) for three years, but Jennings keeps working the puzzle through such distractions as high-speed chases, gunfights and various other forms of highly improbably derring do. Affleck is no more convincing as a flesh-and-blood action than as a superbrain, Thurman is cruelly photographed and director Woo appears to be imitating his own worst work, staging dispirited action sequences and two-gun standoffs without a hint of the vigor that made THE KILLER (1989), BULLET IN THE HEAD (1990), HARD-BOILED (1992) or even FACE/OFF (1997) so viscerally thrilling.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Though pulp sci-fi guru Philip K. Dick's amphetamine-fueled, mind-bending science fiction stories regularly seduce filmmakers with their cool, creepy premises, they rarely translate into satisfying feature-length films. For every haunting BLADE RUNNER (198… (more)

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