johnlink ranks PAYCHECK (2003)

I have to admit that I go into this knowing that it just isn’t one of my favorite movies. I’ve seen it twice before, and remembered thinking (after the second viewing) that I probably never had reason to watch it again. But Liz and I were looking to scratch an itch by watching something with mild action and sci-fi which was more fun than art. We picked PAYCHECK, though I didn’t expect to be enthralled.


I watched PAYCHECK (2003) on 1.26.13. It was my third viewing of the film, and the first in a half-dozen years or so.

Watching this again, it wasn’t quite as bad as my memory would lead me to believe. I certainly wouldn’t put it in my regular rotation, but it isn’t horrendous. PAYCHECK is entertaining enough, it was just a movie flawed from its inception.

Ben Affleck plays Jennings, a guy who reverse engineers high-tech products for a company, and then has his memory wiped so he can’t break any non-disclosure agreements. This is his routine. He works for a couple of months, gets his memory wiped back to the day he starts, collects his paycheck and moves on.

He is offered a three-year job which, supposedly, will pay him enough to make it the last of his career. The job is offered by his friend Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart). After introducing a love interest briefly (Uma Thurman), the movie jumps ahead three years. The job is done. But something went wrong, and Jennings has to go back and figure out what happened and what it was he was working on.

PAYCHECK is directed by John Woo and is adapted from a story by Philip K. Dick. It arrived a year after MINORITY REPORT. While Spielberg’s film is a nuanced and carefully created look at the ramifications of seeing the future, PAYCHECK feels like a B version of that meticulously crafted world. One may think we are in the future, but it is not clear how far into the future (especially since all the TV sports used from stock footage looks strangely like 1988 or 1995). Instead, I suppose this is supposed to be an alternate present wherein a few extra technological advances have been made. That’s fine. It just clearly wasn’t a major worry of the filmmakers to give us any sort of indication. They just created a rough concept and ran with it.

The thrust of the movie involves Jennings having sent himself an envelope filled with stuff he will need to use. He doesn’t know when he will need it, or how, but he will certainly need it. That’s where the movie fails to really be anything other than average. He always knows exactly what he needs and when. There is never a misuse of an item, even though the items are things like a book of matches, a lighter, hair spray, a paper clip, and a coin. A more layered film might have him thinking he needed to use something earlier and then discovering that he doesn’t have something he needs. Instead, PAYCHECK feels like a video game which won’t allow the player to discard an item he will later need. And if he smuggled everything out of the office he was not allowed to leave, ask yourself this: How did he have the key which Paul Giamatti uses to escape danger early on?

But for its flaws and writing lapses, this is still a fun enough movie. An action sequence on a motor bike is pretty cool, even if it feels like the villain is edited in such a way that we think he is right behind the good guys one moment, and a block away the next. The ending is satisfactory, if predictable, (only less predictable is that John Woo has a white dove fly out of a door in slow motion at the film’s peak moment). It’s all just some watered-down, inoffensive, and non-cerebral science fiction.

Is it good? Not really. Is it bad? Not particularly. Was there really a reason to have watched it a third time? Probably not.

Though, hey, if you are a fan of DEXTER this was the first feature film which Michael C. Hall appeared in. So it has that going for it.






~ by johnlink00 on January 27, 2013.

5 Responses to “johnlink ranks PAYCHECK (2003)”

  1. I really didn’t like this one. I always get excited to check out a new adaptation of a Philip K. Dick work, especially his short stories, but I am usually rather disappointed. Nice review though.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, this isn’t particularly good. It moves quickly enough to not be embarrassing. But it certainly isn’t anywhere in the conversation of the best Philip K Dick adaptations.
    All of my rankings are on a scale from 1-10. The final average, then, shows up on a scale of 1 to 10 (technically it could be slightly higher than 10 since I give bonus points, but the highest a film has ever gotten on this site is 9.75 overall).
    The explanation of each category can be found here:

  3. You know I frankly get this movie confused with Mel Gibson’s lesser known movie Pay Back (1999) which is not that bad of of a movie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: