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Review byMatthew Turner12/01/2004


Three out of Five stars
Running time: 115 mins

Enjoyably stupid action thriller that even Ben Affleck can’t ruin, although fans expecting a return to form from John Woo are probably going to be disappointed.

Paycheck is the latest thriller from Hong Kong action maestro John Woo, the man behind Hong Kong hits Hard Boiled and The Killer, as well as Stateside actioners such as Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Mission Impossible 2 and, most recently, Windtalkers.

Anyone familiar with his films will be expecting the following trademarks: slow-motion dives to the ground during two-handed gun battles, set to operatic or similarly eclectic musical choices; a Mexican stand-off or two; and doves.

Short Story Adaptation

Sadly, however, Woo fans expecting a return to the giddy heights of Face/Off are likely to be disappointed – for a start there’s only one dove in the entire movie (so if people in the audience laugh when it appears, you’ll know why). Similarly, Mr Woo is on record as saying he deliberately cut down on the Woo-isms, so as to concentrate on the “human elements” of the story. In which case, he really shouldn’t have cast Ben Affleck…

Paycheck is adapted from the Philip K. Dick short story of the same name and is set some time in the not-too-distant future. Affleck plays some techno geek, patent-violating "reverse-engineer", who gets his memory wiped after every job to protect client confidentiality or something. Anyway, Naughty Mr Aaron Eckhart (looking very uncomfortable) sets up his Best Buddy Ben on a 3 year job with a 92 million dollar pay-off and everything seems rosy.

However, after 'Fleck gets his memory wiped, instead of the 92 million, he finds a) he has waived his rights to the cash and sent himself an envelope full of assorted objects as ‘clues’ instead, and b) there are guys trying to kill him.

Oh, and the Feds want to nail his ass too, especially the gay one from Six Feet Under (Michael C. Hall). And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he can’t remember anything about his apparent three year relationship with Uma Thurman…

Awful Acting…

The acting is, frankly, pretty awful. All three leads are comprehensively acted off the screen by the supporting cast, particularly Paul Giamatti (who, sadly, isn’t in it nearly enough, as Ben’s geeky brain-erasing buddy), Kathryn Morris (who has a short, but sexy role as an executive who seduces Affleck, knowing he won’t remember it) and Hall and Joe Morton (as the Feds).

Affleck is his usual wooden self. He’s not Gigli-bad, but he’s still awful. For one thing, he is the worst screen runner since Joseph Fiennes’ ostrich impression in Killing Me Softly - he runs like a seven year old girl battling constipation. He’s also completely incapable of pulling off either love scenes or dramatic confrontations.

And yet, Affleck’s wooden-ness doesn’t actually ruin the film, largely because Woo keeps up such a decent pace that there isn’t much actual acting required, but also because Uma Thurman is – incredibly - even worse. Not only does she look like shit, she's also saddled with a couple of 'comedy' moments that don't work at all. The best bit, though, is towards the end, where she has to deliver the line "Damn you!" It's a crucial moment and she puts no effort into it whatsoever – you’ll be hard pressed not to laugh out loud.

To be fair, though he overdoes it a bit, Affleck's actually not too bad in the fight scenes and it's the sort of film where if you see him fighting with a pole in the beginning, you know damn well he'll have a pole-like object in his hands again before the end of the film. So to speak. The script, however, is pretty pedestrian and could have used a bit more character work and a few decent lines, since all the supposed one-liners fall horribly flat.

In short, this is an enjoyably stupid film if you switch your brain off and certainly a lot more fun than something like Tomb Raider 2. It’s also the sort of film you can have hours of fun kicking to pieces in the pub afterwards.

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Content updated: 17/11/2019 12:29

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