Hi, I'm Nate Boss, and I have a confession to make. I'm a Ben Affleck fan.
Such a proclamation is sure to draw both the ire of many and plenty of questionable comments about my tastes, as the talented half of the trainwreck formerly known as Bennifer isn't exactly a fan fave. In fact, the elder brother of Casey is more than likely one of the most hated actors in the biz, due to his smug look, occasional (ok, you got me...constant) overacting, and his proclivity for taking roles in less than stellar films. The man just hasn't made many good choices when it comes to what films to take, and what films (or women) to pass on. (Editor's Note: I think there is hope. See the trailer for Extract.) Despite all that, I constantly find myself drawn to his works like a moth to a flame. He constantly injects a bit of charm into his roles, and always comes across as likable to me, but not in some man-crush kinda way.
At least, that's what I keep telling myself.
In John Woo's 'Paycheck,' in what I'd consider a bit of a stretch, Ben plays Michael Jennings, a reverse engineer, who is paid big bucks to dissect an existing product and improve it. This process is used by companies wanting to make a competitor's product line obsolete. To ensure that their dealings and technologies with Jennings are confidential, a memory wipe is performed after each job.
When his longtime friend James Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), the CEO of Allcom, offers him a job with an eight digit paycheck - the only catch being the extreme length of the job (three years) - Jennings has a hard time resisting. But he'll soon have a hard time surviving, as once the job is complete, his life is put in danger, as he's chased by both the FBI and Allcom's hired killers. His only method of survival is found in an envelope he sent himself in lieu of payment, full of random trinkets of no particular value, that, when added up, could save his life, and help him keep the love of his life, an Allcom scientist (Uma Thurman) who is also now in the line of fire.
As much as I admire Affleck, I have a hard time believing him in a role that exudes extreme mental capacities. Imagine him as Will Hunting, and Matt Damon as the doofy friend. It just doesn't work. He doesn't carry himself like a genius, and he certainly doesn't act like one, even when that's his job. The (mis)casting of Affleck, and of Thurman as a biologist, is somewhat reminiscent of Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist in 'The World is Not Enough,' drawing the viewer out of the movie before they can even get into it.
Yet 'Paycheck' suffers from an identity crisis far worse than anything related to Affleck. Director John Woo's "style," as it were, is on full display here. The film would have been far superior sticking to a sci-fi "what if?" look at future technology, but instead it falters, focusing on gunplay and brainless action sequences. We're given numerous gun standoffs (that are always one man short of a Tarantino Mexican standoff), and shootouts galore, rather than a real look at technology, which should be the focus of a film whose main character is a tech innovator of sorts. Save for the sequences in Allcom, the entire film world is stuck in the present (which is now the past, technically), and it doesn't mesh with the idea of this highly technical, advanced universe. I'm supposed to believe that monitors are three dimensional, or holographic, but cell phones haven't taken any leaps? Did Jennings never take on a job for Motorola? What about BMW?
It is probably best said that 'Paycheck' requires the viewer to leave their brain at the door, a classification I hate to level on the film, especially as it is adapted from a story by the great Phillip K. Dick. It does some things right, like the way time jumps three years, so the viewer is in the same position as Jennings. Unaware. Confused. That bit is pure genius, and a bit ironic, considering how muddled the rest of the movie is. Scenes with that kind of thoughtfulness are lost amid a film full of underdeveloped villains, sequences where dialogue can only flow if two characters are pointing guns at each other, the least accurate assassins in history, and acting that can best be described as uninspiring. Even the great Paul Giamatti is wasted here, with a throwaway role that's entirely forgettable.
'Paycheck' may hold a place in my heart (or maybe that feeling is a tumor), but many others have wanted to use the film's mind wiping technologies to forget it altogether.
Paramount definitely earned its pay (possibly by check?) with this solid video transfer, sporting an AVC MPEG-4 codec in the natural 2.35:1 ratio.
There were three things that were "slap you in the face" obvious from the get-go on this disc: the soft grain level that doesn't obscure the picture at all, the amount of dirt on the source, and the high level of detail. The film is full of random close-up shots that all sport an extreme amount of detail and clarity, as they damn well should. You can see the sweat drops piling up on the forearms and chest of a post-workout Affleck, or the very rosy cheeks in close shots of Thurman, who looks aged beyond her years in these tight frames. The motorcycle chase, once it hits the C train yard, is loaded with flying debris, shooting off the tires at all times, in a truly gorgeous sequence. Heck, detail is so sharp I could easily spot how awful Affleck's stunt double is in the fall sequence.
Colors are sharp and vibrant (see the security alarm scene in the FBI building for an example of brilliant reds), and contrast is superb. The disc isn't perfect, as the amount of dirt, mentioned above, is somewhat ridiculous for a film as new as 'Paycheck,' while backgrounds are occasionally a blurred, indistinguishable mess, and solid whites, such as shirts or walls, are busy and ugly. Lastly, while the film remains sharp for nearly its entire running time, I noticed a few shots that were a bit softer, or out of focus. Still, the video for 'Paycheck' is as solid as the movie itself isn't.
Presented with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless mix, 'Paycheck' sounds every bit like an action blockbuster. The film, from the start, has a bass presence that subtly highlights the score, and this light thump stays with the movie any time there is musical accompaniment. The surrounds are utilized in every sequence that they should be, as crowded rooms and buildings sound busy, gunfire crosses the room, and vehicles zip from speaker to speaker. The higher range sounds, including train brakes and the above mentioned gunfire, are sharp and crisp, while hearty explosions late in the film register a solid rumble.
As action packed as this mix is, it also exhibits a few shortcomings. Some of the dialogue sounds hollow, especially compared to cuts found in the same scene that are natural, while the score at times is a bit indistinguishable, and late in the film seemed to overpower the dialogue and action on screen. Overall, a respectable, active, and fun track, one that falls just short of earning a bonus.
The Blu-ray for 'Paycheck' ports over the DVD supplement package, including:
Are the stupid lines in this review concerning money starting to wear a bit thin? If so, take heed, as it's almost over. Said line could also be the mantra of many viewers of this film...it's almost over. Repeating "it's almost over" as if to comfort oneself won't make time go any faster, as this John Woo film is high on style, but a bit short on substance. The film wants to be smart, but ends up looking quite dim. That said, I've always found it to be a fun movie, due to Affleck's charisma, and the nice payoff at the end (gah, another money comment!). Those who can look past the film, or possibly even enjoy it, are in for a treat, as this Blu-ray sports quality video and audio. 'Paycheck' may not be the crown gem in any collection - heck, it may even be a film that gets sequestered from the rest of the collection as if it were porn - but it's an entertaining way to spend two hours and doesn't falter on repeat viewings...if one can make it through a first viewing, that is.
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