Sunday, 19 September 2010

Review: Paycheck (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

Paycheck follows the character of Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck), a reverse engineer who carries out work for companies who want to copy and improve upon their rival’s technology. To maintain confidentiality, Jennings must have his memory wiped after each job is complete. These assignments usually last a couple of months at a time, after which he is given a big paycheck. Jennings’ life seems rosy until he meets with Rethrick, billionaire head of the Allcom company. Rethrick offers him an 8 figure sum for 3 years of his life, a paycheck too tempting to turn down.

Whatever you do, don't press the delete key

After the 3 years are up, Jennings goes to collect his payment, only to be told that he forfeited it and instead sent an envelope containing a number of (what appear to be) useless items . A ring, hairspray, matches, a crossword, a bus ticket, etc. It is only when he is arrested and interrogated by the police that he realises he can use some of these items to escape. Finding himself hunted by both the police and Rethrick’s men, he uses the random objects to stay one step ahead of them as he tries to work out what the job was that he did for Allcom.

This film has an interesting sci-fi premise but instead of taking the route of a thought-provoking, intelligent movie it decides to venture down the path of action and chase scenes. At times these feel weak and unimaginative, as if director John Woo has a checklist of things to include and tries to fit them in even if they don’t work well. It’s a far cry from my favourite of his films, Hard Target. At least he manages to include a few bits of slow-motion and a dove – motifs which instantly identify it as a John Woo movie.

Ben Affleck isn’t very convincing playing a brilliant engineer and I couldn’t help thinking that Uma Thurman’s character Rachel was Poison Ivy Mark II as a biologist with her room full of plants. Although, the fact that she is the love interest he has forgotten about after 3 years together is an interesting added element. She cares for him and thus provides a valuable ally, while he tries to remember her and falls in love with her all over again. Paul Giamatti was enjoyable as Jennings’ only friend, Aaron Eckhart plays evil billionaire Rethrick and the rest of the cast is rounded out with Joe Morton (Miles Dyson from Terminator 2) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter).

For a movie that is based on a Philip K. Dick short story, it doesn’t have quite the same effect as other adaptations such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. In Paycheck the world seems strangely present-day for the most part. Maybe this was a choice made by the filmmakers in order to make it easier to relate to. But ultimately there are certain aspects that just don’t seem to gel. In the future, there are machines that can wipe your memory, but 3D holograms are new and exciting, and they also still use ordinary guns and BMW motorbikes (nice product placement by the way). It’s not the mind-blowing vision of the future that I think they could have made if they’d have followed the source material more closely and gone for a more subtle but effective approach.

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