In the near future, Michael Jennings earns his living 'reverse-engineering' major electronics projects before having his memory wiped to protect his clients' confidentiality. However, on awakening after a marathon two-year gig and expecting a mammoth paym
Philip K. Dick's uniquely screwy, inventively paranoid world-view has inspired half a dozen or more movies, and yet no-one has even come close to capturing the strange, Day-Glo hyperreality of his uneasy universe. Instead, each director brought his own visual sensibility to cherry-picked Dickensian ideas: retro-fitted postmodernism meets tech-noir in Blade Runner, for example, or balls-out pantomimic action in Total Recall.
John Woo gets no closer to the real, borderline Kafka-esque Dick in this brightly vacuous slice of hokum, which has Ben Affleck running around a somewhat under-designed future in the company of some seriously under-written characters, attempting to work out why he has sent himself an envelope stuffed with worthless tat. Both Affleck and Woo are in need of minor career fillips after the star's flop Gigli and Woo's disappointing Windtalkers. And while Paycheck is certainly better than either of those, it still falls a little flat.
Woo's decision to tone down his trademark visual flamboyance - based, apparently, on a desire to stress the 'ordinariness' of the central character - sadly does just that. It also reveals the paucity of the screenplay, in which the characters have a habit of vanishing for half-hours at a time before re-emerging at key moments. Affleck is serviceable enough, but it beggars belief that Uma Thurman, post Kill Bill, would even consider a role as anaemic as 'plant biologist' Rachel, who spends most of her time floating around a greenhouse watering the pretty - strike that, this is Woo - very pretty flowers.
Things are partially rescued by an extended motorbike/car/chopper chase that reminds us why Woo is still the best action director on the block. As swooping 'wirecam' shots follow the bike through conveniently discarded drainage pipes, the scene is pacy enough to distract from the flimsy construction. But, in the end, Paycheck never quite cashes out.
Not really, but not particularly bad either. Some remedial script work is in need, and the characters are far from compelling. But the action is up to scratch and it rattles happily along.
Reviewed by Adam Smith