Paycheck (2003) starring Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton, Michael C. Hall directed by John Woo Movie Review

Paycheck (2003)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Ben Affleck as Jennings in Paycheck (2003)

Memory Loss Leads to Movie Loss

When "Paycheck" starts it made me think of Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" but merged with a computer game where are protagonist finds himself with no memory of the past 3 years, an envelope of strange items which will be critical to his survival and people chasing him. In fact the opening which introduces the idea of reverse engineering and memory wiping is all quite interesting but unfortunately it quickly goes down hill as "Paycheck" morphs into a standard action thriller with an innocent man on the run. Not only that it introduces a standard sci-fi concept which replaces the imaginative opening about reverse engineering which makes it all the more ordinary.

Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck - Daredevil) is an expert at reverse engineering paid royally by companies who contract him to spend time fathoming how competitors do things before he has his memory wiped so that no evidence of the illegal activities can be found. It is why his old friend billionaire James Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart - The Missing) offers him the biggest payday in his life in exchange for two to three years of his life. But something strange happens because when he comes around from having his memory wiped he discovers that not only did he earn an 8 figure sum but he signed it away and he also sent himself a strange package of random items. As Michael tries to solve what has happened to him he finds the strange items of use as not only does he have the FBI after him but also some of Rethrick's men who want to silence him.

Uma Thurman as Rachel in Paycheck (2003)

So as already mentioned "Paycheck" opens in a genuinely entertaining manner as we are introduced to the world of Jennings who not only reverse engineers competitor's technology but then has his memory wiped. It is an interesting concept especially as we watch the dangerous memory wiping process which could leave him a vegetable. That interest continues as Michael agrees to worth for Rethrick and after handing in all his belongings we suddenly jump 3 years and him coming to after having his memory wiped.

Now I like what happens next because it reminds me of those computer games where a character would wake up in a room and solve a series of puzzles to escape, except in this case we have Michael with the envelope he sent himself containing random items from a paper clip to lottery numbers as well as a cryptic message. This then evolves into a bit of "North by Northwest" innocent man on the run as we watch Michael have to flee not only from Rethrick's men who want him dead but also the FBI leading to him trying to work out what has happened. Now this could be any manner of innocent man on the run movies except for some less than subtle references such as company and taxi names which obviously refer to Hitchcock's movie.

The trouble is that the initial entertaining concept of reverse engineering and memory wiping is swapped out for a more standard sci-fi one and the whole mystery of Jennings trying to work out what has happened becomes a standard action thriller. It is a let down after such an interesting start and whilst it still works you sort of feel cheated. You also feel cheated visually because "Paycheck" is a John Woo movie but one which other than a couple of John Woo trademarks such as the use of doves and Mexican Stand-offs it is not that visually memorable.

As for the acting well I suppose I could say that Ben Affleck was trying to give us a modern take on Cary Grant but it ends up not a bad performance but a forgettable one. Then again the supporting cast which includes Uma Thurman, Aaron Eckhart and Paul Giamatti end up just as forgettable because sadly the characters are not fleshed out enough.

What this all boils down to is that after a promising start "Paycheck" ends up a routine action thriller with a man on the run trying to work out what happened to him. It is a shame as the opening and the initial concepts are good it just fails to follow them up with equally original ideas.