|The past few years have yielded several feature film adaptations of Philip K. Dick stories and the results for these films have been curiously mixed. The most recent films based on Dick's works have included Minority Report and Impostor, both released in 2002. For an author whose literary focus was science fiction, Dick seems to have thought about the future as have most science fiction writers, as a dark, bleak place where human rights have dwindled and our privacy has become non-existent.|
And while Paycheck doesn't paint the world of the near future as being a particularly depressing place, after viewing this film one will emerge from the theater having witnessed the signature stamp of John Woo's direction more than the literary vision of Philip K. Dick. With a wholly uninteresting and overextended motorcycle chase thrown into the middle of the film, it is easy to see how Woo values action over intelligence and has no qualms about allowing the fighting, chasing, or punching to comprise most of the film's running time.
It is a rare occurrence for an action film to present a new vision to audiences, as the digital world of filmmaking has been almost completely exhausted by various directors and computer graphics companies in the past decade, so creating something never before seen by audiences is nearly impossible. Or it seems to be given the same-ness of so many CGI enhanced action films and stunt sequences.
Though Woo seems to have had a better time of creating something ingenious in 2000's Mission Impossible 2 where his motorcycles didn't simply run in and out of giant construction tubes but rather flew around in the air in gravity-defying acrobatics. The film does include some interesting discourse on the subject of time travel and its social implications, but two of the three major action sequences (both of them in the latter half of the film) are too long and because they are so very standard in their approach to stunts and fighting, the fact that they're so long makes them more important to the story than they should have been.
Regarding the performances, the three lead roles are filled by capable actors and it is usually their dramatic abilities which allow the film to proceed in an interesting fashion when the action fails to incite real enthusiasm. Ben Affleck, having survived the turmoil of this year's biggest theatrical mishap, Gigli, redeems himself with this performance and reminds his backers of his theatrical talents. He just might disabuse his non-supporters of their opinions as well, as he proves that he has the role of "big-budget action hero" down in spades. In his role as "Michael Jennings," computer scientist extraordinaire, he's got the presence of Bruce Willis and the comedic ability of Mel Gibson.
And acting opposite him, the willowy Uma Thurman jumps into her role as action maven with gusto and despite some rather dopey dialogue (all the actors suffer from some dumpy lines) could have been an even stronger character had the script given her some additional screen time. As the man who becomes Affleck's nemesis, "Rethrick," Aaron Eckhart takes on the mantle of bad guy with ease, though it would have been nice to see him really get angry and throw things around during the film. Except for the final action sequence, he's quite a buttoned-down type of guy and he needed a more volatile persona at times.
Like many Dick stories, Paycheck is a film with few characters, but the supporting cast is presentable, with Paul Giamatti standing out as Affleck's friend and fellow scientist. It is easy to pick a John Woo film out of a crowd as his films usually include a pacing and feel that represent his signature style behind the camera, though with his departure from his standard techniques in last year's Windtalkers (a beautiful film whose failure was in its characterizations, not its visuals), one would assume that Woo might have decided to continue his career in that inventive vein.
But Paycheck is quite like 1997's Face-Off and 2000's Mission Impossible 2 in its visual style. The editor makes use of wipes for transitions and the cinematographer uses as variety of odd camera angles to spice up the composition. And although having a personal and recognizable style is not a barrier to creative success, Paycheck feels too familiar in many spots to really create a sense of wonder for the audience.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.