i originally wanted to bring dick week to a climax with screamers or a scanner darkly, two lesser known dickaptations that i haven’t seen before. but since i couldn’t get my hand(s) on them in time, i had to settle for paycheck through netflix instant, which i saw in theatre and is more publicized. though i did break my own rules, i do not remember anything about the movie. turns out i have no memory of it not because my memory was wiped but it’s an entirely forgettable affair. and that’s saying something consider it’s source material and the people involved.
ben affleck plays seattle engineer michael jennings, or rather, a reverse engineer, who in the opening scenes, picks up the latest gadget, takes it apart, and adapts it into an improved model for a rival corporation. since this practice is not entirely legal, in order to receive a big paycheck, and as part of the deal is that his memory of working on the project is to be erased upon its completion. jennings’ next job though, is where the movie’s premise kicks in: he is invited by college friend jimmy rethrick (aaron eckhart) to work on a mysterious project. unlike the project in the opening credits sequence, this one will take three years, but he will get paid more (and with stock options) and he gets to meet uma thurman, who also works for rethrick, doing apparently botanical research (?).
we then skip to three years later when jennings is finished with the project. unlike the opening credits project, this time we don’t see what jennings did. a simpleminded excuse for the film to build suspense and mystery. jennings then finds out that instead of a huge paycheck and stock options, he had given all those away in favor of an envelope of twenty personal items like bus pass, a ring, a pair of sunglasses, a pink can of hairspray…etc.
affleck is…well…adequate in the role of the genius engineer. interestingly, matt damon was originally attached to the role, but decided to do the bourne identity instead, another movie about someone with amnesia. of course, damon also later did his own dickaptation with the adjustment bureau. uma, perhaps persuaded by kill bill director tarantino to do a john woo movie like he did with mira sovino being in the woo-produced the replacement killers with woo favorite chow yun-fat, is nothing more than the requisite love interest who happens to know how to fight. heroes in hollywood popcorn movies should know by now not to trust aaron eckhart, or sam rockwell, or chris cooper, especially if the lead henchman is played by colm feore, who looks like clark gregg, agent phil coulson from those marvel based-on-picture-books movies. the sole bright spot belongs to paul giamatti as jennings’ one and only ally. though he is pretty much playing the tom arnold role in true lies, he manages to inject energy into an otherwise lifeless enterprise. there are also throwaway roles by joe morton (from terminator 2) and the screen debut of michael c hall (tv’s dexter, gamer) as agents who are after jennings, and kathryn morris as a skank who later shows up in tv’s cold case and dickaptation minority report and also
stanley kubrick’s steven spielberg’s a.i.
with its scifi mystery thriller screenplay, john woo would not be the top pick as the director and it shows: the mystery/thriller elements are merely gaps to be filled in in between glossy action setpieces. after the needlessly drawn out setup of the first half hour, it eventually devolves into a series of chase scenes/action sequences. the dickian themes such as identity and memory, the twenty items…etc feel more like afterthoughts than motivations. though the woo signatures like the slowmo doves and the guys-in-suits-pointing-guns-at-each-other are in the movie, the action scenes feel sterile and generic. paycheck is more like a product by a woo fan rather than woo himself. in fact, the whole enterprise is even more lackluster than the lesser/late period john woo. there’s a lackluster motorcycle/car chase sequence that makes you yearn for the motorcycles/car chases sequences from the extremely flawed mission: impossible: ii. hell, there’s more woo-ness in the disappointing windtalkers.
of all the philip k dick short stories i’ve read, paycheck is pretty low on the list, though it’s nevertheless a fast and enjoyable page turner. the expansion made in the screenplay is not as bad as impostor yet as inane. there are only seven personal items in the original story and the addition of the thirteen items doesn’t add anything to the movie since these items seem more coincidental than crucial in the story than in the movie. there is one female character in the story and in the movie it’s spread out into three. she has a more crucial role in the story than a mere love interest. it’s also more interesting in the story that jennings is representative of the individual, caught between a big government and a major corporation, an element that is watered down in the film in order to have an obvious villain. most perplexing of all is that the original short story is more or less a real time/against the clock thriller that doesn’t need expanding. it’s a readymade tense 90-minute potboiler. there’s no need to stretch it into a cozy and distant two hour blockbuster. one saving grace is that they eschewed the original story’s deus ex machina ending.
paycheck is neither as big a flop nor as disastrous as most people make it out to be. in fact, affleck appears in gigli and daredevil the same year. both of which are worse than paycheck. it’s as bland, generic, mediocre, run of the mill, middle of the road as hollywood can get. as dickaptations go, it’s obviously nowhere near blade runner, total recall, or minority report. it’s not even second tier like the adjustment bureau. the lack of a cage-like lead makes it less quirky and fascinating than next. it’s more enjoyable than the b-movie/dtv level of impostor, mainly because they had more money. there are also plenty of dick-ish films such as dark city, the arrival, source code, memento, and gattaca. the colm feore/clark clegg connection also reminds me of the far superior the spanish prisoner by david mamet, which is also about a genius caught between various conspiracies.
p.s. i categorized this under local cause they went through the trouble of showing washington state license plates to the futuristic vehicles and mentioned seattle a few times. despite the appearance of the space needle, the film is shot in vancouver, canada. it’s a flop in that it didn’t earn back its production budget. though with marketing cost, international grosses and ancillary earnings (dvd and cable), someone probably got a hefty paycheck without having their memories wiped.
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