By Shawn McKenzie 01/01/2004
All the other critics are saying that 2003 has been a dog of a year for Ben Affleck, with him already starring in the hated (except by me) Daredevil and the Ishtar-like response to Gigli (which I would agree with.) I guess we all had hoped that his role in Paycheck, a John Woo movie based on a Philip K. Dick story, would be his comeback. Well…it isn’t a complete comeback yet.
Michael Jennings (Affleck) is a computer engineer in the future who’s hired by high tech companies to steal and improve upon systems and equipment. After he completes a job, his agent, Shorty (Paul Giamatti), is contractually obligated to erase all of Michael’s memory about his projects, for confidentiality reasons. Normally, his jobs last two or three months, but an old friend of his has brought to him a job that will pay a whole lot more, though it will take longer to do. Jimmy Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), the old friend, sets him up with a job that will take three years of work, all of which we’ll be gone from his memory in an instant when he’s done, and he’ll receive a $92 million paycheck. He’s not sure about it at first, but realizing he won’t miss what he can’t remember, he takes the job, especially when he sees that he’ll be working with a cute biologist named Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman.) Fast forward to three years later, and he is done with the project and ready to pick up his fatty check. When he goes to get the check from his bank, he discovers that he supposedly signed away the $92 million in exchange for an envelope containing everyday items that don’t have any meaning. Since Michael’s memory was erased, he can’t remember why he would give up a fortune for a bunch of trinkets. Not only can’t he remember why he gave up the money, he doesn’t know what he worked on for Rethrick, which gets him in trouble when FBI agents Dodge (Joe Morton) and Klein (Michael C. Hall) arrest him and begin interrogating him about the project and his involvement with a government worker who sold his top-secret work to Rethrick. After the agents attempt a partial memory recovery attempt, Michael escapes, using some of the trinkets in a MacGyver-like fashion. As he is looking for Rethrick to get some answers, the other trinkets slowly start having a meaning, because they help him get to specific places at specific times, almost as if it was planned. Rethrick is a little upset and shocked that Michael is still alive and sends his henchman, Wolfe (Colm Feore), to find out why and then take him out for the last time. Michael is now avoiding Wolfe and the FBI, all while he and Rachel (with a minor bit of help from Shorty) try to figure out the meaning of the rest of the trinkets that he left for himself concerning his work on a machine that let’s people see into the future.
Woo has made some cool American action movies like Face/Off and Mission Impossible 2, but this one is surprisingly not as cool. One trademark of a Woo movie is the double gun action scenes, and I don’t remember seeing one in this movie, though I have read other reviews that claim that they are there. I know that Affleck can do action, since I liked him in Daredevil and other flicks like Sum of All Fears and Pearl Harbor (at least the action parts of that one), so I don’t know why this movie wasn’t as impressive.
I also generally like any movie based off a Dick story. Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report are all cool movies (only Imposter was a dog.) I will say that the sci-fi mystery that usually surrounds a Dick story was interesting, but would have been more impressive with better action scenes.
After seeing the extraordinary job Giamatti did in American Splendor, it was disappointing to see him relegated once again to comic relief/sidekick status. I still hope the kudos he has received this year will get him out of these supporting character roles. He’s barely in this one anyway.
I still liked Paycheck, though I had originally hoped for a better movie, since it contained actors and filmmakers I like. I think Affleck’s real movie redemption will come when his latest collaboration with old friend Kevin Smith, Jersey Girl, is finally released. Until then, I fear the Boston native’s highlight of 2004 might be sweeping this year’s Razzie Awards for Gigli.
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