PAYCHECK, by FACE/OFF's John Woo, is an intelligent sci-fi thriller that's
intriguing and exhilarating, working both as a think piece and as an action
picture. Ben Affleck (DAREDEVIL and GIGLI), not exactly Hollywood's strongest
actor, does a fine job this time as Michael Jennings, a professional reverse
engineer. For reasons never quite apparent, he has his brain erased of each
job as soon as it is completed. He is employed by the malevolent Allcom, whose
CEO is a smirkily sinister guy named Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart, IN THE COMPANY OF
MEN). Allcom has a high tech facility that even the CIA would covet.
Although Michael's assignments are normally for a standard eight weeks,
Rethrick makes him an offer he doesn't refuse -- an eight-figure paycheck for
three years of to-be-forgotten work, which, he finds out later, involves
peaking into the future. While on his new assignment, he falls for a Ph.D.
biologist named Rachel. With a flirtatious innocence but near action hero
skills, Rachel is played by KILL BILL's Uma Thurman. Both convincing and
funny, Thurman steals every scene she's in.
Woo, of course, is great with all of the action sequences. His best piece of
work this time is a long motorcycle and car chase and demolition derby, which
he manages to make fresh even if we have seen similar scenes hundreds of times
before. What makes the movie special, however, is the story, which is based on
a short story by Philip K. Dick (MINORITY REPORT). Among many fascinating
elements to the narrative are the contents of an envelope that is delivered to
Michael after his big mission is completed. How he comes to receive these
seemingly trivial items of personal effects is interesting, but the real
mystery comes when he realizes that every one of them will prove crucial to him
at some point in the future. You'll be engrossed thinking about each of them
and trying to guess how they will be used.
The film's ultimate message, which isn't exactly original, is that knowing the
future can be dangerous. The movies have taught us this lesson before, but
this life lesson is delivered with verve and style. The question you'll be
left with is why this popcorn movie didn't open during the summer season, when
it would fit more naturally. But, if you're looking for a good time, PAYCHECK
is worth spending some money from your holiday paycheck even if it's many
digits shy of Michael's eight.
PAYCHECK runs 1:59. The film is rated PG-13 for "intense action violence and
brief language" and would be acceptable for kids around 11 and up.
My son Jeffrey, age 14, gave the movie *** 1/2, saying that he found the story
fresh and the movie funny. He especially liked Uma Thurman's work in it, and
he kept remarking on how great she is in action pictures.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes