Nightlife

Paycheck

by D. Bishop
Contributor
Tuesday May 18, 2004
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Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman and Aaron Eckhart, is a fast-paced, slightly futuristic action adventure adaptation of a story by Philip K. Dick (who also penned the stories behind Minority Report, Total Recall and Blade Runner) about a man who must escape his future... and get the girl, defeat the evil corporate executive, crash some cars, blow up some top-secret labs, etc. Affleck plays a reverse engineer, someone who "legally" steals technology by working backward from a finished product, redesigning and improving an item for the competition, and then routinely submits to memory wipes to eliminate all evidence of his participation in the work, causing him to effectively live paycheck to paycheck. Upon coming out of his latest memory wipe however it quickly becomes apparent that something went wrong on his last project, and he is being sought by both his employer and the FBI. The story has some suprisingly original and effective elements - including a trail of clues and helpful items that Affleck’s character leaves for himself before the memory wipe and which seem utterly baffling right up until the very moment when they each become suddenly relevant. Seeing this trail through to the end, and finding out how Affleck is going to manage to escape what appears to be his destiny is more interesting than it might sound at first, making the film just a little bit more suspenseful, and thus more engaging. Unfortunately, there is some degree of poor and over-done acting (I still can’t decide if Uma Thurman repeatedly falls into badly-written parts or is simply a bad actress) which does get distracting, but that next chase or fight scene which is invariably right around the corner should re-capture your attention... at least until the next exposition scene. The stunt work is well-done, as one would expect from a John Woo film, in particular a motorcycle chase that, while short, had me white-knuckled for just about its entire duration. The production design on this film is also worthy of note - the world looks just a little too perfect, almost sterile at times which seems to be a common problem with the design of futuristic settings, but I have to admit that many of the sets were quite impressive without being obtrusive. So be sure to notice the style and detail of the interior sets... before they get blown up of course.

There are two commentary tracks to choose from - one by Director John Woo, and the other by the screenwriter, Dean Georgaris. I recommend the latter simply because Woo, who is a very unique and talented director, is unfortunately a bit difficult to understand at times during the commentary. There are two "making of" type Featurettes, a series of Deleted and Extended Scenes, and an Alternate Ending (definitely not as good as the released version ending) provided for a total of about one hour’s worth of extra material. For the most part the deleted scenes that are included on the dvd should definitely have been cut from the movie. However, there are notably two (one involving the FBI agents and the other showing Uma Thurman’s character speaking to a friend) that to my mind should have been left in because they provided some background information that explained the motivation of a couple of the characters that was a bit mystifying in the film. Thank goodness for Special Features!

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