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PAYCHECK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton, Michael C. Hall
Director: John Woo
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: May 18, 2004

”Don’t you believe in second chances?”

“To tell you the truth…I do.”

Film ***1/2

On a side note: the quote above has a bit of relevant meaning to Ben Affleck’s career. After enduring, and surviving the whole Gigli disaster, Paycheck has definitely put Affleck back on track. I’m one of few who has always defended the Mallrats superstar, and am happy to see that he’s been resurrected from the ashes of what is indeed his Battlefield Earth. Now, onto the review…

It has now occurred to me that no matter what the genre, director John Woo can handle anything with flying colors, while at the same time adding on a few signature action sequences. He had just tried his hand at the war movie with the highly charged and much underrated Windtalkers, and now Woo tries his hand with the sci-fi genre with Paycheck, and the result is yet another successful piece of visually stunning action packed entertainment from the master moviemaker.

Adapted from the story by legendary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick (Minority Report), the story is set in the not-too-distant-future. The story’s centerpiece is that of pure cutthroat competition between techno-corporations looking to create the next big piece of hardware, or at least learning of how to outdo a competitor’s product. If a company is in dire need of such, Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is the man they turn to.

Jennings is an expert reverse engineer. He is hired by software companies to take a rival’s product, break down the bare essentials by working backwards, and then reassembles them in the form of something new and improved that the companies can expect big bank from. Each job takes about at least two to three months, after which he is paid very highly for his work, which also requires parts of his memory to be wiped out once his job is complete, just to ensure that his secrets won’t be revealed to anyone.

Jennings’ next big job op comes at request of Jimmy Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), head of a big-time software manufacturer and a former college acquaintance. The assignment is considered top secret, though Jimmy assures Michael that a million plus payday awaits him if he accepts, one that will result in him being set for the rest of his life. Of course, as anyone would, he accepts.

Once his memory his erased, Michael is astonished to discover two things. One, three years have passed since he first began his assignment, and two, he’s just had 94 million dollars transferred to his account. All is ever so well for Jennings, until he visits the bank and is stunned when he learns that he canceled his shares of the money, only to instead receive an envelope containing 19 individual items, none of which resembling a cent in cash. Not too long after finding this out, Jennings discovers that he is a wanted man, as he is being pursued by both assassins and the FBI.

Before long, Jennings is running for his life, while at the same time trying to piece together why he sent himself the mysterious envelope of items, why the very people he was working for want him dead, and most importantly, what kind of work was he involved with. He eventually comes into contact with Dr. Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman), a biologist for the company Jennings was helping. The two were also in love, something that Jennings doesn’t even recollect.

The last two thirds of the movie is definitive John Woo, consisting of two big sequences. The first consists of Jennings using one of his secret items, a key to a BMW bike, leading his enemies on a high speed chase. Woo is obviously a fan of this sort of motorcycle. If I’m not mistaken, it looks like the very same model Tom Cruise used in Woo’s M: I-2.

The second is a big climatic standoff in the very laboratory where Jennings’ secret work was conducted. As he discovers the work he conducted will bring upon catastrophic repercussions, Jennings vows to destroy every bit of the technology. This sequence includes the vintage Woo trademarks, plenty of carefully choreographed fights, shootouts, and pivotal slow motion shots. In other words, a pivotal example of highly mastered, high-octane action filmmaking.

Although the action is a big part of Paycheck, perhaps the biggest factor in the movie is very genius premise. One shouldn’t go into this movie expecting a no-brainer. The story is a terrifically convoluted one which will require one to think, a pure rarity in the realm of action or sci-fi. The heart of the story’s mystery has to do with time travel, and I’ve steered clear of big plot points simply as a means of leaving you to discover.

Fueled with explosive qualities at every angle, such as story, action, look and performance, Paycheck is the pure equivalence of what I consider to be true popcorn entertainment, only this time with something of a brain inside its head, which can’t always hurt.

BONUS TRIVIA: Woo’s first choice for casting the lead was none other than Ben’s pal Matt Damon. Damon suggested that Ben be chosen to play since he had already endured a similar role in The Bourne Identity. The end choice paid off, indeed.

Video ****

John Woo’s strong sense of visual style is once again conveyed in Paramount’s much incredible anamorphic presentation. For its entirety, the visual style is displayed in supreme detail, with sharp as a blade imagery to go along, as well as vibrant colors at their most complete. Another big factor in the movie are the lavish set designs (i.e. the laboratory), and the numerous visual effect shots which look downright incredible. One of the year’s best visual offerings.

Audio ****

Any highly charged action/sci-fi thrill ride is bound to payoff in the audio field. As long as John Woo is the director…forget it—the ride is being brought to your living room. The 5.1 mix is as dynamic and high powered as anything you could expect from a single DVD presentation.  The level of range here is as good as it gets, as the blending together of dialogue, action, music score, and set design pieces add up to mind blowing two hours. Gets the highest marks, indeed, and has a terrific chance of being remembered at the next DMC Awards.

Features ****

Paramount applies their Special Collector’s Edition quality to full effect on this release. To start of with, there are two commentary tracks, one with John Woo and the second with screenwriter Dean Georgaris. Also featured are two well done featurettes; “Paycheck: Designing the Future” and “Tempting Fate: The Stunts of Paycheck”. Lastly, there are 7 deleted and extended scenes, as well as bonus trailers.

Summary:

Paycheck combines an inspired sci-fi premise of the legendary Philip K. Dick with the action and visual brilliance of John Woo to create nothing short of a memorable ride of a movie. It also results in a big power-packed DVD presentation.