Science fiction and fantasy

Paycheck poster


a John Woo film

Why would anyone agree to have their memories wiped? Good question, but that's the premise of this movie, and remarkably it's not the most stupid thing about it.

Ben Affleck plays an engineer, Michael Jennings, who agrees to have his memories wiped after he has spent the next three years working on a secret project, in return for a massive paycheck. Making people sign confidentiality agreements clearly isn't enough anymore. For a guy who relies on his brain, and who we're meant to think is smart, he's remarkably willing to allow people to mess around with his head.

Jennings is not so much an engineer as a "reverse engineer" who takes other people's inventions and figures out how they work. He's constantly being told to "work it out backwards", as though this meant something. The science is real McGuffin stuff. The film may be set in 2007, but it's not even very plausible for 2107.

When the three years are up Jennings finds he has signed away his own paycheck and is left with nothing but a parcel of someone else's trivial belongings. Yet the objects in the parcel are curiously helpful, like clues to his predicament rather than a random assortment of junk.

The old wiped memory plot has been done before and better in such films as Memento and Total Recall. Even though Jennings knows nothing, people are out to kill him for some reason. It makes remarkably little sense.

Uma Thurman plays Rachel Porter, the obligatory love interest. A botanist who works for the same company that got Jennings into this predicament, her character is a bit of a cliché. Affleck himself is about as flamboyant and passionate as a table. As for the villainous company boss James Rethrick, played by Aaron Eckhart, he is utterly forgettable.

It's fast-paced with plenty of action, but there's never anything really spectacular to look at or think about. This film has none of the style that you might expect from earlier John Woo offerings. It's Hollywood on automatic : the same old chases and explosions, no matter how tired the formula is.

However this is not a truly terrible movie. It goes through the motions, but at least all the right motions are there. It holds your attention, and it's only afterwards that you will start to feel cheated. This movie is still slightly better than staring at a brick wall for 2 hours.

2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

Film Details

Year of release: 2003

Categories: Films
Science fiction

Classification: 12

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