Paycheck (2003) — A forgettable John Woo joint

“Michael Jennings is not a super agent, he’s an engineer.”

Justin’s rating: From Hard Boiled to this — what happened, John Woo?

Justin’s review: Don’t… don’t even get me started on the obvious pun that could be made between this movie’s title and Ben Affleck’s presence. I’m sure a thousand newspapers world-over have covered me on that. What concerns me much more, like those three little bugs that burrowed under the skin in my hand and haven’t made a peep in about two weeks, is the why of this film.

As in, why was Paycheck even made?

It’s not a horrible movie, or even a bad one. It’s a solid “C” student, cutting a couple classes and chalking up a paltry resume filled with McDonald’s as a work reference. It’s just that there’s no earthly reason why Paycheck needed to be made, because it’s all been done before. And then some.

I have a hard time liking movies that are pretty much photocopies of other films without anything new inked in the margins to really set it apart. Please point out to me where Paycheck is any different:

Based on another mutilated Philip K. Dick short story, here we have the quaint futuristic tale of Michael (Affleck), a reverse engineer who works on top secret hoojoo in seclusion, then gets his memory wiped at the end of each project to get his paycheck.

When a multiple-year project arises, Mikey naively trusts the huge heartless corporation to take care of him, but things don’t work out so well. He awakes after three years with no memories, no paycheck, and a lot of ticked-off people gunning for him. Apparently, he’s been working on some sort of futuristic prediction machine (no, no, certainly nothing similar to Minority Report) and has to use the clues he left for himself to bring down a huge conspiracy.

Yeah, so during the entire movie, my brain keeps shouting at me, “FOOL! This is Total Recall done with fewer muscles, less gore and less mutants! Why are you watching it?”

It really is mostly Total Recall and Minority Report on a lesser budget, and that’s doing no one any favors. Neither is Affleck, who resorts to his two main acting expressions: furrowed-brow confusion, and wide-face upset shouting. Sometimes I can like Ben, sometimes I wish a rabid weasel would make a nest in his innards, but here I simply don’t care about him. He’s a bland protagonist meekly following the bread crumbs of a mystery that will be spoon-fed to the audience instead of challenging them to figure it out on their own.

After just seeing Suspect Zero the other day, I’m yet again treated to the off-key visage of Aaron Eckhart, who constantly makes me think he’s Sean William Scott’s father with a more creepy grin.

Directed by John Woo, who’s been misfiring all over the place since quitting the traditional Hong Kong double-fisted pistol action fests, Paycheck is just that. Money spent for time spent — only we’re paying Hollywood to show us something we’ve already watched before.

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