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John Woo
Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Aaron Eckhart, Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton, Michael C. Hall, Peter Friedman, Kathryn Morris
Writing Credits:
Philip K. Dick (short story), Dean Georgaris

The future depends on a past he was paid to forget.

Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is a brilliant computer engineer hired for top-secret projects. After each job, Jennings' short-term memory is erased so he cannot recount any project information. Emerging from his latest assignment, a three-year contract with an eight-figure paycheck given to him by his longtime friend (Aaron Eckhart), Jennings is jolted when he is told that during the end of his assignment, he agreed to forfeit all payment.

Jennings has no recourse - until he receives a mysterious envelope containing clues to his forgotten past. With the help of a beautiful scientist (Uma Thurman) he once loved but now cannot remember, Jennings races to solve the puzzle of his past ... while a terrifying discovery waits in his future.

Box Office:
$60 million.
Opening Weekend
$13.462 million on 2762 screens.
Domestic Gross
$53.789 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 5/18/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director John Woo
• Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Dean  Georgaris
• “Paycheck: Designing the Future” Featurette
• “Tempting Fate: The Stunts of Paycheck” Featurette
• Deleted/Extended Scenes
• Alternate Ending
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Paycheck (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 19, 2004)

Anybody remember back to about a decade ago when film buffs regarded John Woo as pretty much the coolest director in the world? Via his Hong Kong operas of violence, Woo became incredibly hip back in the early Nineties.

Then he went Hollywood, with erratic results. Both 1993’s Hard Target and 1996’s Broken Arrow had their moments, but not until 1997’s Face/Off did Woo produce something truly memorable. He followed that with his biggest commercial hit, 2000’s Mission: Impossible 2, but it seemed only sporadically compelling, and 2002’s Windtalkers presented a surprisingly bland flick.

Woo snapped back with 2003’s Paycheck, but it didn’t manage to restore his good name. The film limped theatrically, as it made a lackluster $53 million at the box office. The critics didn’t like it much either, and for pretty good reason. Like most Hollywood Woo movies, Paycheck has some decent moments but fails to rise to a higher level.

In Paycheck, Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) works as a computer engineer. He deconstructs projects and improves on them. After the completion of each task, Shorty (Paul Giamatti) wipes his memory for the entire period of time involved so he can’t betray any secrets.

These projects generally last a few months, but Michael receives an offer for a more massive enterprise from his old friend Jimmy Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart) while at a party. A business mogul, Jimmy wants Michael to devote two or three years to this effort, at which time he’ll snag an eight-figure paycheck. The longest time he’d ever gone and had his memory erased with eight weeks, so this task comes with some serious risks.

Despite some concerns, Michael agrees. Once he enters Rethrick’s organization, John Wolfe (Colm Feore) injects him with a capsule that will apparently aid in the later memory erasure. Michael also re-encounters biologist Dr. Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman), a woman with whom he flirted at Rethrick’s party. We see Michael meet his research partner, Dr. William Decker, and the next thing we know, he’s back in the office with Rethrick and Wolfe where he got his injection.

Michael returns home and discovers his shares in Allcom – Rethrick’s company – are now worth $92 million. However, when he goes to claim some bucks, he finds the legal documents state he forfeited his shares four weeks earlier. While he attempts to investigate, the FBI bring him in for a chat.

The FBI allege that Michael worked on reverse engineering of classified technology. They say that Decker pioneered this material but got rejected by the feds and sold it to Rethrick. They want the details from Michael, but due to his memory wipe, he can’t help. The feds attempt a memory recovery that doesn’t work, but Michael soon finds the means to escape.

Armed only with an envelope of incongruous elements he allegedly mailed to himself, Michael attempts to figure out what happened to him. In the meantime, we get other clues about the activities of the prior few years and what nefarious plots surrounded Michael. We also discover the relationship between Michael and Rachel that occurred during the prior three years and its implications for the present.

Without question, the first half of Paycheck seems the strongest. Taken from the Philip K. Dick story, the set up seems juicy. We get a fun concept of someone who sets himself up to succeed but he needs to piece out all of the components, and for a while, we play the guessing game along with Michael. Sort of a combination of Total Recall and Terminator 2, the film presents a compelling tale at its heart.

Unfortunately, Paycheck starts to falter just when it should turn into something good. The movie invests much of its action in the second half, and given Woo’s skills with those kinds of sequences, we expect lively material.

This never really materializes. Instead, the second half mostly limps along until it finally reaches a conclusion. I won’t say that I ceased to care what happened to Michael by the end, but the flick plodded so much that I lost some interest.

Part of the problem stems from the way Woo stages the action. Whereas those moments usually sparkle, here they seem curiously flat. Woo abandons much of his typical visual flair and renders the action sequences in a strangely bland and lifeless manner. Some decent excitement still manifests itself, but these sequences definitely don’t live up to their potential.

Really, Paycheck comes across as little more than a fairly generic Hollywood action flick. Woo has turned into a journeyman director who rarely shows flourishes of his more visual and experimental side. The masses co-opted his idiosyncrasies, so he now seems determined to avoid those elements. Paycheck works as a fitfully exciting action movie, but it doesn’t become anything more than that.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Paycheck appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 5:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I expected a solid visual presentation considering the prominence of this expensive project, but instead I found a surprisingly erratic picture.

Sharpness varied. Most of the movie came across as acceptably accurate and distinct, but quite a few segments occurred in which detail seemed less than terrific. Occasional examples of softness cropped up throughout the movie, although much of the time it looked pretty concise and distinctive. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, but some mild to moderate edge enhancement appeared throughout the flick. Print flaws proved minor, but they nonetheless showed up more frequently than I’d expect. The movie betrayed occasional specks, marks and nicks. Grain looked heavier than usual. This never became terribly distracting, but since a modern, big-budget flick should come with virtually no blemishes, the movie showed too many defects.

Colors also offered something of a mixed bag. Sometimes they looked nicely bold and dynamic, but exceptions occurred. The hues periodically appeared somewhat muddy and messy, and they occasionally appeared flat and without much breadth. A scene with red lighting looked particularly runny. Black levels were acceptable but not much better, and low-light situations appeared a bit drab. They never looked excessively dense, but they didn’t display much life either. Although I’ve seen many worse images than that of Paycheck, this transfer seemed less than terrific for a five-month-old movie.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Paycheck seemed mostly satisfying. The soundfield presented an active and lively piece that often engaged the five main speakers. The film showed distinctive imagery throughout the movie that placed different auditory elements accurately within the spectrum and meshed them together nicely. Music provided strong stereo imaging, and effects popped up from the appropriate locations. Quieter scenes displayed natural ambience, while the many action set pieces involved engrossing and vibrant imaging.

Audio quality also seemed generally positive. Speech usually appeared natural and crisp, but I occasionally heard some light edginess. Music sounded bright and dynamic as the DVD neatly replicated the score. Effects packed a nice wallop when necessary, as these elements seemed clean and distinct at all times. Bass response came across as deep and tight, and the low-end added a good layer of depth and oomph to the package. This wasn’t a great soundtrack, but the audio of Paycheck mainly worked well.

When we check out the DVD’s extras, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director John Woo, who completes a running, screen-specific effort. He gets into a mix of topics that include the cast, the visual look of the film, effects and stunts, and the influence of Hitchcock on the movie. At times, Woo becomes a little bogged down in happy talk, but he also gives us some interesting insights into comparisons between his Hong Kong days and Hollywood, and he also delves into various thoughts about different movie genres. This doesn’t turn into a terribly scintillating track, but it goes through a mix of fairly interesting subjects and merits a listen.

For the second track, we hear from screenwriter Dean Georgaris, who presents his own running, screen-specific chat. Unsurprisingly, he mostly discusses the script, as he tells us about changes made among various drafts. Georgaris also gets into some production notes and observations from the set, but the alterations executed to the script dominate the piece. At times these become informative and interesting, but in general the track seems somewhat flat. Georgaris simply narrates the movie a lot of the time, and the commentary mainly fails to seem very engaging. It includes a moderate amount of data but never takes flight.

Next we find a pair of featurettes. Called Paycheck: Designing the Future, the first runs 18 minutes, 13 seconds, as it presents the usual mix of movie snippets, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from Woo, producer Terence Chang, production designer William Sandell, visual effects supervisor Gregory L. McMurry, and actors Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore and Aaron Eckhart. We get some general notes about the script and the story as well as Woo’s attitudes toward the project. Then we learn about the movie’s visual look and its sets. The second half of “Designing” seems the most interesting, as the first few minutes either consist of fluff or repeat material from Woo’s commentary. When we get into the production design, the piece becomes more compelling, though it remains a slight program, especially since its last few minutes degenerate mostly into praise for Woo.

Entitled Tempting Fate: The Stunts of Paycheck, the second featurette fills 16 minutes, 46 seconds. It uses the usual format as we get comments from Woo, Affleck, Giamatti, Thurman and US stunt coordinator Gregg Smrz. The latter participant dominates as we learn about the creation of the motorcycle chase, the subway sequence, and the fight in the hydroponic garden. “Stunts” packs a lot of information into its brief running time and seems like a tight examination of the topics. We find good insight into the design and execution of the bits, and lots of cool behind the scenes shots help make this a fun program.

After this we find six Deleted/Extended Scenes as well as an Alternate Ending. Via the “Play All” feature, the former last a total of 10 minutes, 24 seconds, while the latter goes for 122 seconds. The first three are quite brief and don’t tell us much, though the first adds some interesting backstory for Michael. The fourth shows that Rethrick put Rachel through a memory extraction to try to track Michael, while the fifth depicts another confrontation between Michael and Rethrick. The sixth one gets into some machinations behind the scenes with the feds.

I won’t discuss the content of the alternate ending, because I’d have to give away too much. It’s not more satisfying than the current conclusion, but it’s also not any worse. Overall, most of the deleted footage seems superfluous, though the one with the info about Michael’s past adds some depth to the piece.

Although we get no trailers for Paycheck, the DVD includes some Previews. This area presents ads for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Timeline, Against the Ropes, and The Perfect Score. As usual, Paramount includes English and French subtitles for the majority of the visual extras.

Not anywhere near as good as John Woo’s best flicks but also not his worst effort, Paycheck comes across as a fairly average movie. Blessed with a clever story, it generally keeps us interested, but it never takes flight and becomes anything special. The DVD presents watchable but surprisingly erratic picture with good audio and a reasonably interesting set of extras. Action fans might give this one a rental, but I can’t recommend it beyond that level.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.1666 Stars Number of Votes: 18
6 3:
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