Saturday, January 17, 2004

REVIEW: Paycheck

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 January 2004 at AMC Fenway #11 (first-run)

Call it Minority Report Lite. Like Spielberg's movie, Paycheck is based on a Phillip K. Dick story, focuses on being able to see the future, has some rather obvious product placement, and has a few good action sequences. Heck, Kathryn Morris, Tom Cruise's wife in Minority Report, shows up in the first section. The bulk of Paycheck could be seen as an expanded riff on one of its predecessor's most clever sequences, the chase scene aided by precognition.

Which makes Paycheck clever. Where it falls short of Minority Report is that clever is as far as it goes; it doesn't have the moral ambiguity, the detailed future world, the strong performances, or the ingenious Moebius strip of a plot. That's not an indictment; Paycheck is still great fun to watch, and more than once I found myself saying "heh, good one" at some piece of ingenuity on the part of the filmmakers. I criticized The Cooler a couple weeks ago for being overly cute with its contrivances, but in a way, not trying to be a serious, character-based movie helps Paycheck succeed by doing the same thing - things happen because they need to happen, but the structure of the movie makes it a plus. The audience is in on the joke, and what might otherwise seem lazy is clever and maybe even somewhat satiric.

Another thing the plot of the movie does is allow the audience to not be subjected to an awkward romance between Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman's characters. They meet cute, sure, but one cut later three years have passed and though Affleck's Michael Jennings may not remember what went on, you don't have to worry about why Thurman's Rachel Porter is so suddenly attached to this fugitive with a nutty story. Which is good, because Rachel is a fun character, diving right into the action to a degree that's almost alarming. The girlfriend's role in these movies often seems to be "designated hostage", but this one is a valuable partner, whether it be unorthodox use of a motorcycle safety helment or grabbing a laboratory control panel and doing some robot-arm-fu.

John Woo directs with the usual John Woo-isms. People stand three feet apart and stick their guns in each other's faces with outstretched arms; a dove flies through the final big fight scene for no apparent reason. Still, there aren't many people who can choreograph a gun fight so well, so just appreciate the signature moves. Similarly, the Red Sox references around Affleck's character are forced (why they kept what they did and cut the line about the Red Sox having won three World Series that he had wiped from his memory, I don't know).

Paycheck kind of disappeared among the holiday hype, which is too bad - it may not be a masterpiece, but it's a very entertaining action piece.

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