"Paycheck" was another victim of the "Bennifer" backlash; a halfway enjoyable movie ignored largely, it seemed, because people had grown tired of hearing about and seeing star Ben Affleck. Ridiculous, but enjoyably so, "Paycheck" evaporates from memory afterwards, but John Woo's latest directorial effort provides some tense moments during its running time.
The film focuses on Mike Jennings (Ben Affleck), a reverse-engineer who makes an awfully good living taking ideas from other companies and altering them, then having his memories erased by the company who he worked for, leaving no proof that he actually took the idea for them. He's invited to a party by his wealthy former friend, Jimmy (Aaron Eckhart), who promises him the supreme gig: three years of his life working on a project, in exchange for $92 million dollars. Although he's hesitant at first, the idea of working with an attractive biologist named Rachel (Uma Thurman) makes the idea of spending three years away from society more bearable.
After his work is over, he goes to pick up his paycheck, only to find that the money is not there, replaced by a set of about 20 small objects that he apparently put there in order to save himself - in his near future. Suddenly, he finds out that his employers are trying to wipe him out, but his memory wipe has cleaned out the reasons as to why. Rachel (Uma Thurman) returns to his life, but he can't remember who she is or the time they spent together over the three years.
Similar to "The Bourne Identity" (Matt Damon was apparently the first choice to star in "Paycheck", but didn't due to the similarities) and "Memento", "Paycheck" is a more standard action/sci-fi fare. Despite being based upon a Philip K. Dick ("Minority Report") novel, the picture seems disinterested in trying to explore any thought-provoking aspects of the story and more involved in trying to get the action moving. Although director John Woo is, of course, famous for the action sequences he's staged in other, earlier films, his efforts here generally feel somewhat second-rate, aside from a decent chase or two. Woo's signature doves do turn up, as well, only this time in a place so random as to be somewhat laughable.
Affleck isn't too bad in the role, not displaying difficulty with the action moments and portraying his familiar look of energetic confusion to good effect, given the role. Uma Thurman is very good, if somewhat underused as Rachel; Paul Giamatti is kind of wasted in the sidekick role, while Aaron Eckhart makes for a decent villain.
"Paycheck" is forgettable largely because I wouldn't recommend pondering it too heavily after the credits have rolled; there are plot holes and loose ends throughout, but if one can suspend disbelief, they'll find a moderately entertaining, mostly fast-paced thriller.
VIDEO: "Paycheck" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Sporting glossy cinematography by frequent Woo collaborator Jeffrey Kimball, "Paycheck" certainly looks slick. Thankfully, Paramount's presentation nicely does justice to the film's look. Sharpness and detail are first-rate, as the image appeared consistently well-defined, with no hints of softness or other inconsistencies.
The image appeared largely free of any sort of faults or issues. A little bit of edge enhancement was visible and some very slight compression artifacts were spotted, but the image remained mostly clean and crisp. As would be expected from a new movie, the print did not show any signs of debris or other wear.
Colors remained vivid and well-saturated, with no smearing or other concerns. Black level looked solid, while flesh tones remained accurate. This was an excellent effort from the studio.
SOUND: "Paycheck"'s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was very good, if somewhat inconsistent. Several stretches of the movie are more dialogue-driven, and although some additional ambience would have been effective, they largely remained forward-oriented. However, once the film's action sequences get going, the film started to put the rear speakers to excellent use, with plenty of discrete effects and great ambience. A few sequences - such as the motorcycle chase - did an extremely good job at putting the viewer in the middle of the scene via the sound design. Audio quality was top-notch, with well-recorded effects and dialogue, clean music and occasional touches of strong bass.
EXTRAS: Two commentary tracks are offered: one by director John Woo and the other by screenwriter Dean Gregoraris. The director's commentary is moderately informative, as Woo inserts some interesting comments about his working style (rehearsals, working with the actors, style) in-between some more general comments about the actors, the story and what attracted him to the project. The screenwriter's commentary has a few patches of silence, but it does offer not only some very good comments about the production (production design, location shooting, etc.), but some interesting tidbits about some of the major and minor decisions that went into the screenplay.
"Paycheck: Designing the Future" is an 18-minute featurette that is a general "making of" documentary. The documentary feels very much as if it's something made to promote the film instead of something to allow DVD viewers to look into the production. We hear a lot about how wonderful everyone was to work with, hear about the movie we just saw and see the occasional behind-the-scenes clips.
The better "Tempting Fate" is a 16-minute look at designing and building up the film's main stunt sequences - the motorcycle chase, the final fight and the subway station scene. The documentary goes, piece-by-piece, through the elements needed to put the sequence together. Interviews with the film's stunt coordinator and others are also included.
Finally, we get 6 deleted scenes, previews for other Paramount titles (including an amazing trailer for "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow") and an alternate ending for "Paycheck" that I thought wasn't half bad.
Final Thoughts: Basically entertaining and fast-paced if one can suspend disbelief, "Paycheck" makes for a good rental. Paramount's DVD edition provides a fine amount of supplemental features, along with excellent audio/video quality.
The Film ** 1/2