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Directed by John Woo.
Written by Dean Georgaris.  Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick.
Starring Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman and Aaron Eckhart. 
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  1/14/04


It’s John Woo, so you KNOW I gotta, gotta...

Here’s the best thing I can tell you about “Paycheck”—it made me forget about “Windtalkers”, Woo’s last film and by far his worst film since he became an action film legend.  In “Paycheck”, we get a story about a reverse engineer named Jennings (Ben Affleck) that completes assignments for sci-tech firms around the world, then has his memory erased so that he has no knowledge of the top-secret nature of the work he was doing.  These assignments—usually about two months in length—pay him about $500,000 per case...but, when his old friend Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart) pitches a new project to him worth eight figures, Jennings takes the bait and sacrifices three years of his life to work on another assignment.  Fast forward three years later, and Jennings is set to collect his money, but there’s a big problem...and only 19 items in a manila folder to help him figure his way out of it.

The plot is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, so at least the storyline for “Paycheck” is intriguing and drives a strong first 30 minutes of the movie.  Really, though, “Paycheck” is a perfect Matinee-style film.  The action is just good enough to be interesting, with harmless shootouts and fistfights every 15 minutes or so.  The movie’s biggest set piece, a chase scene featuring a BMW motorcycle, is not bad; not nearly as interesting as the chase in Woo’s “M:I-2”, but it conveys a good sense of speed.  There are some decent laughs, Affleck is okay, the supporting cast (including Colm Feore as the chief henchman for Rethrick and Uma Thurman) is so-so, and the score is nothing of note.  The pacing of all of this is good, and I have almost completely forgotten about this film now, just a few days after seeing it.

Really, the most interesting thing about “Paycheck” is how it seems everyone on this project was only looking for a...paycheck.  This is great, dial-it-in work from all of the actors, and this might be the most decisive proof that Ben Affleck cannot carry a film on his own.  He’s a good-looking guy, but he never seems to have quite enough charisma to make looking at some of his bad films worth anyone’s time.  Thurman just looks haggard in this movie, Joe Morton (who plays a fed) looks just interested enough to nail the first take of his scenes, and Eckhart passes his time as if he’s on the clock.  Woo himself directs his action scenes with almost nothing fresh or cool; if he is trying to get out of doing action films, why does he direct something that’s in-between on the kill-o-meter??  Bullets fired at targets ten feet away hit the ground at the ninth foot; Thurman’s scientist character seems to have better hand-to-hand combat training than every single guard working at the facility she is employed at; ditto for Affleck’s Jennings, who also apparently received submachine and handgun training when not reprogramming computer chips.  (Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.)

But, don’t sweat the details and “Paycheck” is a fine attempt at a holiday action film.  Just don’t pay more than $5.25, and it’ll be all good in the hood.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09