With hit movies like Hard Boiled and The Killer under his belt, an experienced director like John Woo should easily be able to mix new things into each feature, but it seems that he prefers to make all of his movies from a template. It's one thing to have a style or a signature, but what he's got is formula and that was evident in his latest release "Paycheck" starring Bennifer J. Lo Affleck and Uma (please get a nose job) Thurman. As normal you have the crossed guns, the boot, the villain's outer garment whipping in the wind, and, oh yeah.....those fucking birds !!!
We start out with a fabulous and different idea for a movie, which is based on a Phillip K. Dick story: A man who must remember what he was paid to forget. Affleck is Michael Jennings a "reverse engineer" who makes a very good living discovering the secrets of new inventions by taking them apart, duplicating, and then improving them. His clients then market his stolen ideas and scoop the market share out from under the original inventors. The only catch- - his brain must be erased of all knowledge and memories of what he's done and he can never disclose who he's worked for. The assignments are usually 2-3 months, and he doesn't mind trading the lost time and memories for the money, calling what he does remember "highlights". He is approached by a good friend and sometime employer, billionaire Jim Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart) who offers him a 8-figure salary in exchange for a 3-year assignment, which is to be done on campus. He reluctantly agrees and when we see Jennings again, he's completed the assignment and goes home to find a huge paycheck waiting for him. Elated, he pays a visit to his accountant to cash in and discovers a few shocking things: he forfeited the paycheck for an envelope of 19 everyday items and that the he is being pursued by the FBI as well as Rethrick's henchmen.
The movie went along great using the line of the amnesia victim trying to solve a mystery that he himself helped to construct. You're pulled in right there with Jennings as he tries to figure out what made him give up the money and send himself some seemingly worthless items. One then quickly determines, as the action starts to pick up, that these items are neither worthless or without a purpose. Now Jennings must do the biggest reverse engineering job of his life, to find out what he was paid to forget and using those 19 clues to help him to do it. It's at this point that Woo for some reason saw fit to overshadow the clever and functional plot with the overbearing action that assumed a life of it's own...well not entirely it's own. -- Seems like he clipped parts of Face/Off and Broken Arrow and pasted them into Paycheck. His clichéd "style" just sucked all the interest out of the movie and it soon took on the feel of another Woo clone. You saw Affleck fighting, shooting, and riding a BMW motorbike, but you forgot from who and why he was running. The second half of the movie just sequences a set of action scenes together until he finally comes back to what is left of the original storyline and ties (read: hangs) it up together.
I think Affleck did an tolerable job as far as acting, but I am still waiting for him to give us the same quality of work that he did in Good Will Hunting. Aaron Eckhart gave a fairly allowable turn as Rethrick, but I think his pomade slicked hair and strong jaw and chin lines, and not so much his thespian abilities, are what gave him his villainous qualities. The worst thing about this film was the under use of Uma Thurman. The way her character was written and used was simply wrong. She was the only person in the film who really brought feeling and emotion to her character. Clearly, the movie exploited her as the token babe, because the story could have gotten along just fine if the part had been written for a man. All it achieved was to add a love angle here, which didn't really serve a purpose.
Woo attempted to make his tired stunts and repeated one-lines come off fresh and fascinating, but it just didn't happen. When you saw or heard something in Paycheck you knew you'd already seen it or you'd see it again. Every time you thought he'd go out on a limb and try something out of the ordinary, you got recycled gambits from his other work.
Spielberg seemed to get his Phillip K. Dick adaptation right in Minority Report where the mystery, suspense, and action were well balanced, and might I add innovative and bright. It seems that Woo cribbed some ideas from Minority Report along with a few from The Bourne Identity. What he didn't seem to take were some hints on how to do it correctly.
Paycheck is not a complete waste of money, it does entertain and if you don't mind cookie cutter action gimmicks, then by all means see it. It wasn't all I expected, but then again, being John Woo, I shouldn't have expected that much.
P.S. John: Enough with those birds !!
Notes: Making Paycheck must have been just that for Ben Affleck and John Woo.
Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: Paycheck bounces.
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