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Ben Affleck as Michael Jennings
Uma Thurman as Rachel
Aaron Eckhart as Rethrick
Paul Giamatti as Shorty
Joe Morton as Agent Dodge
Michael C. Hall as Agent Klein
Colm Feore as Mr. Wolf
Emily Holmes as Betsy
John Cassini as Agent Mitchell
Fulvio Cecere as Agent Fuman
Peter Friedman as Attorney General
Michelle Harrison as Jane Anderson
Ivana Milicevic as Leslie
Kathryn Morris

Paycheck offers an interesting mystery and is very much in the same format as Minority Report and Total Recall. However, this may also be its biggest drawback.

Paycheck is based on the book by Philip K. Dick, author of Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report.

In 2007, Michael Jennings is what is known as a “reverse engineer”. His job is to secretly take products from competing companies, figure out how they work, then re-tool them to be better. This work makes him very rich, but there’s a catch. When his work is done, his memory of the event is erased. All he knows is that he gets a big, fat paycheck at the end of the job.

An old friend named Rethrick approaches Michael with a new job proposition. He wants him to work on a top secret project which will require him to have his memory erased three years back. While Michael is initially wary of such a big memory wipe, he relents when he sees how much he will be paid.

After being escorted to his work, Michael awakes three years later with no memory of where he has been or what he has done. Matters are made worse when he discovers that there is no money in his bank account and the FBI wants to arrest him for treason. On the run and without a clue, Michael only has one envelope (sent to himself) to guide him. It contains 19 seemingly random objects that appear to have no meaning. Only by figuring out their purpose can Michael clear his name…and potentially save the world from disaster.

Paycheck is rated PG-13 for intense action violence and brief language.

What Worked:
If you liked Total Recall or Minority Report, then you will probably like Paycheck. There are elements of both mixed into this story, thanks mainly to the fact that all of them were written by Philip K. Dick. All of them are set in the near future. All of them feature men who are on the run. All of them feature main characters who are trying to solve puzzles while being shot at. The rest is just details. This similarity may turn some people off, but I like this kind of film so it didn’t bother me much.

The real fun of Paycheck is the mystery behind it. What machine did Michael build? What is the purpose behind each innocuous object? Seeing that all unfold before you is what makes the movie worth checking out. The less you know about the story going in, the better off you are. With that, I won’t discuss the plot more in this review.

This is Ben Affleck’s first film after the disastrous ‘Gigli’. He does a pretty good job of plying Michael Jennings. He’s able to play the character as both an intellectual and an action star. I think he uses a few of his Daredevil moves late in the movie. While Uma Thurman is good as Rachel in Paycheck, this really seems to be a step down for her after seeing Kill Bill. She, too, kicks butt towards the end of the film, but it doesn’t necessarily seem appropriate for her character. Paul Giamatti provides some much needed humor as Shorty. He gets to play the token wacky sidekick, but he pulls it off well.

This film is directed by John Woo, so you know it has some over-the-top action in it. There’s some decent hand-to-hand combat towards the end of the picture, but the real highlight is a nice motorcycle chase midway through. It goes from a crowded street to a construction yard to an underground tunnel. It’s some good stuff. As the film neared its conclusion, I was laughing that Woo hadn’t shown any of his trademark “birds flying in slow motion” shots. Yet, as if on cue, we see one at the very end. It was a bit silly, but it was there.

What Didn’t Work:
As already mentioned, Paycheck is a retooled version of a lot of other movies you’ve already seen. That may or may not be a problem for you, but it’s undeniable that this movie doesn’t really break any new ground. There’s nothing new here about memory wipe (see Total Recall). There’s nothing new about leaving clues behind for someone with amnesia (see The Bourne Identity). Paycheck doesn’t even cash in on the fact that it’s set in the near future like Minority Report. So from that point of view it’s a disappointment.

The story also has a few plot holes. I can’t get into details about them without spoiling the plot, but I can hint at them. In the story Michael is supposed to be isolated from the outside world during the three years he’s “reverse engineering”. However, he’s able to start a relationship with a company employee, smuggle items out to himself, and other things revealed at the very end. For a top secret project, it didn’t seem very secure. This doesn’t even get into the weird issues with the device he created.

Paycheck also features one of my pet peeves in movies. It is supposed to be set in the near future, yet it shows technology that’s obviously decades away from being created. This movie makes it look like 3-D holographic computer displays are going to be commonplace by 2007. Unless there are major leaps and bounds in technology in 3 years, it seems unrealistic. They would have been better off leaving everything set at an unknown date in the future. However, this is just a minor personal annoyance. Don’t mind me.

The Bottom Line:
Paycheck is worth checking out if you can’t get into a screening of Return of the King. If you liked Total Recall or Minority Report, you’ll probably like this.