If you can imagine what a 2003 John Woo film based on a Philip K Dick story starring Ben Affleck would look like, you can probably guess what Paycheck is like. Affleck makes a passable Chow Yun Fat type in what is essentially a rather old-fashioned sci-fi action flick that is more than slightly reminiscent of Total Recall.
Affleck is a reverse engineer in the near future who is hired to copy other companies’ designs. After each assignment, his memory is wiped for security – the company’s and his own. After an unprecedented three-year job, he finds himself on the run, having turned down a giant paycheque and finding that things have gone badly awry. For a start, his meagre envelope of belongings – confiscated at the start by the company – has been switched for mundane and worthless items, though he quickly realises that there’s more to his unexpected hoard than meets the eye.
Uma Thurman is likeable as the woman who may or may not have the key to his memories, lending some Kill Bill-style physicality to the role – though in this they’ve managed to make her look curiously anime-ish through her hairstyle, accessories and makeup. Paul Giamatti is in comic relief/best buddy mode, and Aaron Eckhart plays the shady corporate shark who hires Affleck for his secret project. The two actors you’re most likely to be scratching your head in semi-recognition over are Michael C Hall (Dexter) and Joe Morton (Terminator 2) as FBI agents.
Paycheck tries hard to be Minority Report, but struggles to outperform Face/Off. It’s thoroughly entertaining, but firmly in the b-movie spectrum. I think the low score on Rotten Tomatoes unfairly underrates what is still a solidly enjoyable thriller. Some video games – Mass Effect, BioShock – feel like you’re watching a movie; this film feels entirely like you’re playing a game. It would have made an excellent game, but its choice of medium – and specifically the cheesy 90s-Hong-Kong-Action-Flick direction – holds it firmly in the realm of the slightly naff.
I’d still recommend it, though.