“It’s time to wake up and get a life. We live in a three-dimensional world. Until now, the world of computing has been a flat world consisting of two-dimensional imagery. Now through the use of exclusive breakthrough technology, ARC has made it possible for you to get a life. A-Life, where we can work and play in a lifelike world of three-dimensional reality. A-Life… the living monitor. Impressed?”
You should be. From the mind, or more accurately the pen or typewriter, of science fiction legend Philip K. Dick comes another big budget Hollywood film, Paycheck. The works of Dick have become impressive films in the past. From Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep we get Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, Blade Runner. Dick also penned the Steven Spielberg budget buster, Minority Report. But Paycheck is actually much more like the Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster Total Recall. Once again, Dick deals with his popular subject of downloading, or in this case removing memories. Combine that element with the seeing into the future concept of Minority Report and you have what should be a Philip K. Dick greatest hits film, with the added adrenaline rush of John Woo in the director’s chair.
In the not so distant future, the technology exists to wipe out a certain span of time from your memory. Mike Jennings (Affleck) is a technology whiz. His specialty is backward engineering. He can take a product that is already created and take it apart, divining the technology used to create it. That makes him valuable to companies like ARC who use him to steal ideas from other companies. Jennings agrees to do such projects and then have his memory for the duration of the job erased. No worries about testifying to the feds, and no pesky conscience to get in the way. For this he is very well paid. Borrowing from an overused plot devise in Hollywood, Jennings is offered the big job. The job that will pay off enough to allow him to retire. It will mean three years of his life will ultimately be erased. A scary proposition considering no one’s had more than 18 months erased before. Jennings should know. The record belongs to him. He agrees to do the job with the promise of $90 million for his troubles.
Flash-forward three years. Jennings wakes up sans three years of his life in memories. He expects to be $90 million richer, but soon discovers that he forfeited his earnings in exchange for a package that appears to contain ordinary items. He’s naturally upset, but he can’t remember what happened. None of his contacts at the company are returning his calls. Life is about to change for Jennings. The feds grab him and accuse him of treason. With the help of a lighter and a can of hair spray from the envelope, Jennings escapes. He soon discovers he must have been working on something huge. The Feds want him, and his ex-employer is trying to kill him. Coincidentally at each turn, one of the ordinary items is just the thing he needs to get away. With the help of a biologist he first met at a party and later at the ARC compound, Jennings pieces together what project he worked on.
John Wood delivers exactly what you expect him to deliver. The entire movie is a well timed thrill a minute narrow escape fest. Hey, I’m even willing to suspend my belief and accept that Jennings was able to glimpse the future and carefully engineer his own life to avoid each of the traps he was going to encounter. But wouldn’t each escape change what followed? How did he foresee each of these obstacles and know that his uninformed self would figure it out with just a fraction of a second to consider? It doesn’t make any sense, but John Woo knows how to send enough adrenaline to our system that we don’t ask quite so many questions. So, the story isn’t where the film falls apart. It most certainly doesn’t self destruct with the action. The problem is that these characters suck. The only performer that stands out at all is Paul Giamatti, who is underused as Jenning’s memory wipe expert friend. He gets in a few comedic relief laughs, but is left by the wayside too often. Equally underused is Uma Thurman as his forgotten love interest. She never really appears comfortable in the role. It doesn’t hurt that I was too often reminded of her over the top turn as Poison Ivy, because this character is also surrounded by plants and works in an environment eerily like the one she did in the Batman film. Ben Affleck might be a lot of things. I guess the chicks think he’s hot. I can’t speak to that. What I can comment on is what he’s not, and that’s a dynamic actor. I’m sorry, but he never sells the role and his performance is flat, making it stand out all the more because of Woo’s hectic pace. In the end this is a very run of the mill film offering nothing new in plot or character.
Paycheck is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. This is a very stylized film with lots of blue filtering going on here. That makes the color a bit of a non element here. The detail and sharpness is another matter entirely. The picture is razor sharp, and the detail is high enough to notice that Thurman is aging. Woo always provides plenty of explosions and flashing lights, and they are captured in high definition here. Black levels are fair, but I really didn’t like all of the filtering and color correction.
The Dolby TrueHD Audio track does a great job. The uncompressed sound often rises over 3.5 mbps. Woo doesn’t spare the explosive charges, and we get a fully dynamic experience. The score is at times too strong. The sub response is pretty solid. Dialog is always clear. The surrounds really bring out Woo’s frantic pace. Subway trains and other obstacles live in a fully three-dimensional space, making you feel those near misses. You will experience a wide range of aggressive moments that will offer that often elusive immersive adventure.
There are two Audio Commentaries. One by Woo. Woo is always hard to quite understand. He speaks quickly with a heavy accent. The second track features screenwriter Dean Georgaris. You’ll get more insight from this track, but it’s a bit dry.
All of the extras are in SD.
Designing The Future: (18:15) Cast and crew offer the typical synopsis and story chatter. We do learn that Matt Damon was Woo’s first choice for Jennings. He appears to believe he’s captured a Hitchcock feel here, but I honestly never saw it. The quick edits and narrow escapes appear to fly in the face of Hitch’s character driven suspense. The piece includes some storyboards and production designs.
Tempting Fate: (16:48) It wouldn’t be a Woo film without stunts. Take a look at those sequences here.
Extended and Deleted Scenes: (12:27) A few character moments that might have helped flesh these people out a bit more. There are a couple of moments here that are still referred to in the finished film.
I like Philip K. Dick and I like John Woo, but I suspect that never the twain should meet. He expresses in his commentary and on the features an almost disdain for science fiction. He should go back to strictly action features and leave the genre to folks who, I don’t know, actually enjoy the stuff. This film never did anything at the box office and is best left to die a natural death. “Natural being gravity after a 140 foot fall.”