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What's the story?
In PAYCHECK, Ben Affleck plays Michael Jennings, a brilliant engineer. In two months, he takes apart a revolutionary project for its competitor and makes it all but obsolete. Then the client writes him a big check, his friend Shorty (Paul Giamatti) zaps out his memory of the last eight weeks, and Michael is off to make the kind of memories he likes to keep, all of which seems fine to him. When Shorty tells him to think about stopping, Michael says, "My memories are basically highlights. The stuff you erase doesn't matter." Cue evil mogul Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), who offers Michael a three-year project. Then cut to three years later. Michael's memory is gone, and so is the $90 million he was supposed to be paid. All he has is a manila envelope with a bunch of mundane items -- hairspray, a fortune from a fortune cookie, a pack of cigarettes, a paperclip, a matchbook. He knows it was a message he sent to himself before his memory was wiped. But what does it mean? And will he ever remember his relationship with a beautiful biologist (Uma Thurman)?
Is it any good?
We can stand it when a thriller requires some suspension of disbelief, but the boredom of this would-be thriller is unforgivable. The movie just sags, even in the action scenes. Without spoiling what little suspense there is, all I can say is that the big "reveal" removes any sense of narrative tension by making the outcome all but inevitable. Even Woo's trademarks, the fluttering birds and the two-gun stand-off, feel perfunctory.
Scientists will discover a way to bend the laws of time before anyone remembers that a movie about bending the laws of time has to have some way of handling the problem of determinism versus free will that is if not plausible then at least consistent. The idea (from Blade Runner's Philip K. Dick) of Paycheck is an intriguing one -- a super-smart computer whiz who trades not only his intellect but also his memory for big bucks. Even on one of his good days, this set-up would have been a challenge for director John Woo, whose stylish staging has turned saggy scripts into highly watchable films. But Woo seems to have taken a hit from that memory-eraser.
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