PAYCHECK

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Paycheck
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PAYCHECK - 2003
USA Release: Dec. 25, 2003
Province of British Columbia Film Incentive BC, Solomon/Hackett Productions, Lion Rock Productions, Davis Entertainment, DreamWorks SKG, Paramount Pictures
Rated: Argentina, Spain: 13 / Australia: M / Brazil: 14 / Finland: K-15 / Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland: 12 / Hong Kong: IIA / Ireland, Norway: 15 / Philippines, USA: PG-13 / Singapore: PG / Sweden: 11 / UK: 12A

Dick is in. Phillip K. Dick, that is. This troubled loner but brilliant science fiction writer, who died nearly penniless in 1982 at the age of fifty-three, is now a sought after source of screenplay ideas (much to the delight of his heirs). Movies based on his short stories include BLADE RUNNER, TOTAL RECALL, SCREAMERS, IMPOSTOR and MINORITY REPORT. If you've seen them then you know that two of those were really good movies, one was okay and the others sucked. Where does PAYCHECK fall in that range?

PAYCHECK was directed by John Woo (FACE/OFF, BROKEN ARROW) and written by Dean Georgaris (TOMB RAIDER II, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE [2004]), based on a short story by the aforementioned Mr. Dick.

The story opens at a computer show. A new 3-D monitor is demonstrated and Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck: PHANTOMS, ARMAGEDDON, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, DAREDEVIL) likes it so much he buys one. He takes it back to the office, takes it apart, and quickly produces an improved version, much to the delight of his employers. That's when they erase his memory.

It seems in this near future time that corporate espionage is so out of control that simply having your engineers sign non-disclosure agreements is not enough. Instead talented individuals like Michael agree to contracts of up to two months (the longest safe interval for the process) and at the end, when their work is done, all memories of those two months are erased. From Michael's point of view it's as if he went into a room, sat down in a chair, then stood up again a moment later but two months have gone by. They hand him a nice fat paycheck and he goes on his way, unaware of what he worked on. A technician, and friend of Michael's, named Shorty (Paul Giamatti: THE NEGOTIATOR, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, PLANET OF THE APES [2001]) supervises the memory erasure process, which is risky because it raises the brain's temperature. High fevers can cause brain damage.

Michael lives quite well this way. Risk-of-brain-damage pay is pretty high. He and Shorty get invited to a posh party thrown by CEO bigwig Jimmy Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart: THE CORE). Also at the party is biologist Dr. Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman: JENNIFER EIGHT, PULP FICTION, GATTACA, KILL BILL). Michael and Rachel have an instant attraction for each other.

Jimmy takes Michael aside and offers him a new contract. This is an unusual offer because instead of two months, Jimmy wants three years. His company has a new process that allows much longer memory erasures. Michael is cautious, especially when Jimmy says he'll be paid in stock (if only I had a nickel for every time I fell for that!), but the promise of an eight-figure paycheck is just too good. Michael says yes.

He's met at the door by Jimmy's right hand henchman, Wolfe (Colm Feore: FACE/OFF, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK). Wolfe injects Michael with a radioactive tracer meant to travel to his brain and serve as a "marker" for how far back to erase. Once inside Michael is introduced to his co-workers, which includes the lovely Rachel who he met at the party.

Paycheck character sheetJump to three years later.

The job is done and Michael rushes home to check the value of the stock he was given. The current market price makes it worth $92 million. He's set for life.

Or he would be if hadn't forfeited all his shares, news he does not take well. Instead of a vast fortune the only thing his investment company has for him is an envelope he mailed to them that contains a variety of personal belongings. He doesn't recognize any of these items and sure as hell doesn't think they're worth nearly a hundred million dollars. What is going on?

The mystery deepens when Michael is arrested by FBI agent Dodge (Joe Morton: TERMINATOR 2, APT PUPIL, THE ASTRONAUT'S WIFE, WHAT LIES BENEATH, DRAGONFLY) for treason! But that's when the stuff in the envelope starts to make sense.

Speaking of sense, I sense that this is a good time for a

!!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:
The idea of any kind of "memory marker" artificially set in the brain is something I'm pretty sure wouldn't work, given that memories are stored holographically rather than linearly but maybe they learned a way around that. I have to be careful because I don't want to ruin the surprise of what Michael was working on. All I'll say is that although current thinking on the topic would not allow the idea in question to work, the whole subject is sufficiently in flux that I'm fine with a future discovery making it workable.

This is a decent thriller. The action is over the top more than once and sometimes just plain hokey but some of the hokieness (is that a word?) is because of the nature of the project. Affleck is believable as the privileged genius suddenly thrust into a bad situation and the story moves fast. I like the concept of perfect security via memory erasure but it makes me wonder. If I started a new contract (among other things, I'm a computer programmer) with no memory of any of my previous jobs, that means I wouldn't have any of the experience I gained from those jobs. I'd be starting from scratch each time, as though each job was my first.

But I digress. PAYCHECK gets three shriek girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.

Paycheck (2003) on IMDb
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