Saturday, 21 April 2018
John Woo's last American film (to date) raids a Philip K Dick short story for a hook and precious little else. Paycheck, like basically every other substandard Dick adaptation (and most of the really good ones), is only interested in the his knack for inciting incidents, refusing to press on into the author's realm of compromised people and how they make peace with their dystopias. Paycheck is, above all else, a holiday season action film. Anxiety exists to be conquered rather than accepted.
Ben Affleck plays Michael Jennings, a brilliant engineer who deconstructs bleeding edge gadgets for the purpose of industrial espionage. Since his work is legally suspect, Jennings is subject to futuristic non-disclosure agreements that involve his memories being zapped out of his brain upon completion of a job. Having finished his latest black out assignment, Jennings expects to be sitting on millions. Instead, during a chatty debrief, he discovers his pre-wipe self traded in his stock options for a manila envelope full of cheap knick-knacks and trinkets.
Paycheck's sci-fi stupor allows Woo to scratch his Hitchcock itch, in particular the bewildered chase central to North by Northwest. A well-dressed but low energy Affleck stands in for Cary Grant, the amnesia forced onto his Jennings simulating Roger Thornhill's essential cluelessness. Woo and screenwriter Dean Georgaris pursue a similar kind of uncompromised, inexpert heroism for their lead character too. Paycheck features precious little gunplay, Jennings preferring to scheme his way out of dangerous situations. It's a novel tact for such an accomplished action director but, in practice, it's a compromise too far. By this point Woo had been thoroughly ironed out by la-la land. The overt Christian imagery that characterised films like The Killer had been reduced to a tick involving a dove; likewise an editing style that found poignancy in chaos has here been transformed into a stuttering series of Avid burps.