If I taught a class on acting, I would take them to see Paycheck because it clearly illustrates how an otherwise interesting movie can fail based on a bad performance by the lead actor. The premise of Paycheck is great, and this movie could have been a quasi-comeback for director John Woo if he had a better star and a better script. Instead, we get Ben Affleck looking completely awkward as he battles bad guys with a stick, and Uma Thurman slugging through horrible dialogue about second chances. You can almost see her suppressing her gag reflex.
The plot of Paycheck bears some resemblance to Total Recall, and though you may be saying, "Wait! Arnold Schwartzenegger is a terrible actor too!" I'd like to point out that Arnold at least looks the part of an action hero and is a bad actor in an interesting sort of way. Arnold actually punches up the crappy dialogue by putting the emphasis on the wrong words; but Affleck is just bland and fails in a really predictable way.
Affleck's character, Michael Jennings, has an interesting career. He infiltrates technology companies to work on top secret projects and then reports his work to a competing company. To protect both his covert employer and himself, Jennings has his memory erased at the end of every project. One day, Jennings is approached to work on a lengthy and dangerous project that will provide him with a 92 million dollar paycheck. He agrees to participate, and in the blink of an eye, the project is over and done with. It is three years later, and Jennings is about to become a millionaire 92 times over. When he arrives at the bank, there is a problem. It seems Jennings from a few weeks in the past has forfeited his right the money. Jennings is the present is left with nothing but the clothes on his back and an envelope of nineteen random items. As the film continues, each item will prove to be useful in its own unique way and help Jennings unravel the mystery of the last three years.
Great idea for a film, eh? I wish I thought of it... and asked for casting approval.
The action in the film is pretty good, and though there isn't anything in the film that will make your jaw drop, Woo manages to keep the energy up through some fairly long sequences. The look of the film is reminiscent of Minority Report, but the similarity ends there. It's important to make the distinction that even though Paycheck is based on a Philip K. Dick short story, it is not a sci-fi film. Paycheck is a straight up action flick complete with terrible dialogue and obvious holes in the story. So, if you do decide to see this movie, just pretend that you are Ben Affleck and just let the events wash over you as you sit, stupefied, in your seat.
You'd think with his lackluster acting "ability," Affleck would be a great action star, but no. He doesn't bother to bring any complexities to the character and delivers one bland emotion after another. He simply lacks the one characteristic that is essential to any lead actor in an action film: charisma. As for Uma Thurman, I just feel bad for her. With Kill Bill still fresh in everyone's mind, it's tough to watch Uma play sidekick to Affleck. She might as well be a standee in this film; she has nothing to do!
Paycheck's premise is almost worth recommending as a rental, but it's certainly not worth forking over eight or nine bucks to see in the theater. I also think the box office gluttony is one of the main things that prevents Woo from making the kind of movies we all loved him for in the first place like Better Tomorrow II. So do yourself and John Woo a favor and pass on Paycheck.
-Megan A. Denny