Review: “Paycheck”

A slick little piece of entertainment, “Paycheck” is a light on the brain enjoyable action vehicle which, whilst certainly no classic adaptation of a PKD story (ala “Blade Runner”, “Minority Report”), is still a nice alternate this Christmas to those looking for an energetic diversion from all the soggy dramas and brilliant but heavy going “Return of the King”.

Granted it has all the problems you come to expect from studio blockbusters with plot holes galore, somewhat unbelievable action stunts of derring-do, and some rather thin characterisation all across the board. Yet the idea and premise it sets up is an interesting one and brings up some interesting questions which, whilst not explored much, do keep you compelled to watch and even think about how it all might go whilst the pacing keeps things tense and moving fast.

Acting wise there’s not too much going on here – Ben Affleck holds his own in the role well, making this essentially tech geek into someone whose appealable to both collar colours. Thurman, who always seems to be shot with a vaseline lens, is a likable female love interest who does a decent job with an essentially flat character. Sadly Aaron Eckhart whom I’m a big fan of is a cardboard cut-out villain and there’s little he can do with the limited part. Small turns by great actors like Colm Feore, Joe Morton and Michael C. Hall are all sadly lacklustre. Paul Giamatti delivers his usual fun comic relief job.

The much vaunted ’19 objects’ which will help him workout the solution to the central mystery turns out to be a clever idea as every few minutes we get to see a small ‘payoff’ of sorts as to how these everyday items help to save Affleck’s ass from the bad guys. The script requires defiance of logic, in some cases small (such as how in the world can an engineer also be one of the world’s greatest motorcyclists) although one or two really big ones are there – much like the series “24” though, things move so briskly there’s not much time to think about them and the more you do the less you’ll probably like so its best not to.

Production wise the film’s look is interesting – giving us a future that’s more like the world today albeit cleaner and a little more hi-tech. Too many sci-fi movies rely on slick gadgets to distract you but this one almost underplays that idea and what ‘wonderous machines’ we do see are usually relevant to the plot.

The cinematography and lighting is also distinctive and suits this cleaner hi-tech look – even the actors themselves are more toned and tanned than I think I’ve ever seen them before (Affleck especially has suddenly become a real hottie) although this doesn’t always work – the walkway lit face-off of Eckhart and Affleck scene will probably earn the film the nickname “The Battle of the Cleft Chins” as the pair’s striking protrusions stand out hard in some of the lighting conditions.

Those going in expecting a John Woo movie are going to be disappointed. “Paycheck” is no “Face/Off” and in fact is one of the ‘softest’ movies Woo has ever done with a reliance more on story and wild stunts than action shootouts. For me that’s a plus but those who love their incessant gunplay will be a little letdown. Woo pokes fun at himself, squeezing in his now trademark flying dove shot in one big action scene which will bring a laugh or two from audience members.

This isn’t a great action movie by any means and certainly won’t go down as a highlight of the genre in this or any other year. What you have here is essentially a quite good Sci-Fi Channel TV movie with a bigger budget at the cinema. Its pure fun escapism and for the two-hour runtime it does its job well.