A review of “Paycheck” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for action, violence, and language

Run Time: 2 hours

 

John Woo forgoes originality in favor of stock thriller trappings in this blatant rip-off of Minority Report, The Bourne Identity and the like.

Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick that speaks to display technology and the potential of predicting the future, Paycheck revels in its ability to confuse and confound. 

Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is a world-class engineer who routinely has his memory erased after high-profile jobs in order to prevent security leaks. Six figure paychecks are all in a day’s work, but Michael can’t refuse his most recent proposal: eight whopping figures for three years of work. 

When the project reaches completion, Michael is handed an envelope with his effects, confiscated at the start of the job.  Instead of a watch and sunglasses, the envelope is full of random everyday objects that bear no connection to Michael’s current situation or what he remembers of his past.

To add insult to injury, Michael appears at the designated savings and loan to fetch his payoff, only to be told that he has surrendered his shares, rendering him a pauper and a wanted man in the time it takes to say “conspiracy theory”.  Unidentified passwords, scrambled codes and gritty hit-men converge to make Michael’s life a daily living hell.  They’re after him, but why?

Why, indeed?  Vacuous mumbo jumbo about laser enhanced lenses that curve outside the universe (thus allowing one to see his or her future) and a sketchy subplot involving a tenuous love interest (Uma Thurman as babelicious biologist Dr. Rachel Porter) serve to heighten the conundrum rather than resolve the issues. Michael repeatedly and incredulously evades the bad guys (utilizing aforementioned objects), always a step ahead and continually looking his metrosexual best. 

To be fair, Paycheck is visually slick and its players perform with conviction.  Paul Giamatti delivers honest comic relief as Michael’s stand-up co-worker Shorty, and Aaron Eckhart returns to his evil roots (In the Company of Men) with an uber-slimy turn as James Rethrick, the millionaire muscle behind the mystery.

It’s not nice to toy with the future, nor is it particularly thoughtful of John Woo to churn out a cookie-cutter thriller in the most hotly contested of holiday movie seasons.