PAYCHECK (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
May 14, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“A John Woo thriller and a film with a wonderful concept based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (‘Total Recall’, Blade Runner’), but unfortunately, a film that misses its potential.”
DURATION: 118 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French and Portuguese
RATED: PG-13 (For Intense Action Violence and Brief Language)
COMPANY: DreamWorks Pictures
RELEASE DATE: May 12, 2009
Directed by John Woo
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick
Screenplay by Dean Georgaris
Executive Produced by Stratton Leopold, David Solomon
Produced by Terence Chang, John Davis, Michael Hackett, John Woo
Co-Produced by Arthur Anderson, Keiko Koyama and Caroline Macaulay
Music by John Powell
Director of Photography: Jeffrey K. Limball and Gregory Lundsgaard
Editing by Christopher Rouse and Kevin Stitt
Casting by Mindy Marin
Production Design by William Sandell
Art Direction by Sandy Cochrane
Set Decoration by Elizabeth Wilcox
Costume Design by Erica Edell Phillips
Ben Affleck as Michael Jennings
Aaron Eckhart as Rethrick
Uma Thurman as Rachel
Paul Giamatti as Shorty
Colm Feore as Wolfe
Joe Morton as Agent Dodge
Michael C. Hall as Agent Klein
In 2003, popular director John Woo would return with a sci-fi thriller adapted from a short story titled “PAYCHECK” written by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (known for popular novels such as “Blade Runner”, “Total Recall”, “Minority Report”, “Screamers” and “Next”, etc.) and a screenplay written by Dean Georgaris (“The Manchurian Candidate” (2006) and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life”).
It would bring together well-known talents such as Ben Affleck (“Daredevil”, “Sum of All Fears”, “Pearl Harbor”, etc.), Uma Thurman (“Kill Bill”, “The Avengers”, “Pulp Fiction”, etc.), Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”, “The Wicker Man”), Colm Feore (“24”, “The Chronicles of Riddick”, “Changeling”, etc.) and Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”, “Cinderella Man”, “Shoot ‘Em Up”, etc.).
The film cost about $60 million to make and grossed over $96 million in the box office. While Director John Woo received praise for his work on the film from several critics, unfortunately Ben Affleck was not so lucky as he received the worst reviews for his performance for the film, earning him the “Worst Actor” award for the Golden Raspberry Awards.
The film takes place in a not-so-distant future where Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck), a reverse engineer, is paid a large amount of money to take the latest technology from a corporation sold in the market, take it apart and create something much better using their technology.
Jennings lives by working paycheck after paycheck but how it works is that after each job, his mind is erased. So, he has no knowledge of doing any of the reverse engineering jobs. His friend Shorty (Paul Giamatti) does the erasing procedure to make sure that the procedure doesn’t go 42% (it can erase someone’s memory permanently or result in death).
The following day, Jennings goes to a party for the CEO James Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart) of Allcom, also his old college roommate. At this party, Jennings meets Dr. Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman) who he tries to flirt with (or more like trying to ask if she would sleep with him) in his blunt and candid way but doesn’t succeed. Porter asks him if he gives up after his first try and Jennings tells her that through past experiences, he does.
He’s called into Rethrick’s office and he is offered a job that will take three years of his life and he will make eight figures minimum. Dr. Porter is responsible for injecting him with a radioactive memory marker, so he can monitored of how much his memory is erased.
During the three years, Jennings and Porter become a couple and things are all good. After a successful job, his memory is erased. But when he tries to cash in for his paycheck, he’s told that he signed away his rights to his reward. All that he has is his belongings that he gave up hours before he gave up the job (which contains a bunch of random items).
Not sure what is going on with his life in the present, he is then taken into custody by the FBI who wants to know about his involvement with Allcorp and the murder of physicist William Decker. Because his memory was erased, Jennings has no idea what the FBI are talking about. But he can tell by the line of questioning that he is a suspect.
The FBI then uses the mind reader to see if they can extract anything from his recent memory and see very little. While one of the agents smokes a cigarette, it causes the smoke alarms to go off and clouds of steam are seen in the room. Jennings has a sense that one of the items in an envelope, sunglasses should be worn. And when Jennings wears it, he can see perfectly through the steam. Jennings takes his belongings and puts it back in the envelope and escapes FBI custody and a chase ensues.
While escaping, John Wolf (Colm Feore) who works for Rethrick sees Jennings running. He tells Rethrick and both are surprised that Jennings is alive because during the erasing process, he should have died. The two try to think of how he could have escaped unless, he had someone in the inside helping him out or he saw something in the future. Rethrick then has Wolf and his men going after Jennings to kill him.
Jennings visits the company that sent him the package. Everyone is shocked to see him and when Jennings asked who send the package several days ago, he learns that he sent it to himself. Nothing makes sense.
Jennings tries to piece together what the items in the envelope mean. He calls up his friend Shorty and they meet. Shorty tells him that he shouldn’t have taken the job. When Jennings talks to Shorty about the job that he just did, he learns that he was working on a laser which allows a person to view the future. When he sees numbers from a lottery show up on the television, he realizes that a fortune cookie message had the exact numbers.
Jennings then realizes that he probably saw something in the future and he sent him the items to himself for a reason. Immediately, gunmen start shooting after Jennings and Shorty and one of the items that Jennings has is a key to the janitorial area which he gives Shorty a chance to escape.
Jennings starts running through the subway and fighting and avoiding the men after him. While in the tunnels, he sees John Wolf with a gun pointed at him. Jennings realizes that his friend and former employer wants him dead.
Jennings manages to use his quick thinking to avoid being killed but he realizes that he needs to get in contact with Dr. Rachel Porter. Rethrick, knowing of Jennings and Porter’s past relationship, knows he must get to Porter before Jennings does. When Rethrick tries to find out if she has seen Jennings, she tells him that she saw him a few days ago (around the time he still had his memory). Rethrick realizes that she is no threat but has cameras in her quarters observing her afterwards. While about to take a shower, they see her reacting to something in the bathroom but are not sure what. What Porter sees is a message created by the steam from the shower from Jennings to meet him at at a cafe. She immediately finds a way to leave the Allcom complex but Rethrick has his a man following her.
Knowing that Jennings has no recollection of his last three years, he has a woman posing as Porter in his place and listening to her conversation. With a camera on her, Rethrick sees the envelope and realizes that Jennings sent the items to himself and must have succeeded with the device that allows a person to view the future. As Jennings is about to give an item (an access card) to the woman, the real Dr. Porter comes in time and knocks the woman unconscious. Immediately gunfire erupts and now Jennings and Dr. Porter are being hunted by Rethrick’s men. Meanwhile, the FBI wants the machine that Jennings was working on or Jennings himself.
Both Jennings and Dr. Porter must now survive, while the odds are against them. Why does Rethrick want him dead? What do the items in the envelope mean?
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“PAYCHECK” features a 1080p High Definition transfer. There are times where picture quality is good but surprisingly, there are quite a bit of dust and scratches that show up throughout the film. Because the film utilizes a lot of blacks, you can often see the white speckles showing up and for a 2003 film, I didn’t think I would see so much.
What works in the favor for “PAYCHECK” is John Woo’s way of directing. John Woo is one of the few men who edits as he shoots and has the film already preconceived in his mind and knows what shots he wants. Joining him for the ride are talented cinematographers Jeffrey L. Kimball (“Star Trek: Nemesis”, “Hostage”, “Mission Impossible II”, etc.) and Steadicam operator Gregory Lundsgaard (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”, “The Spirit”, “Gridiron Gang”).
The shots that Woo chooses and the visuals are amazing and during the indoor scenes, you get quite a bit of darkness and the outdoor scenes, the transfer looks good. But again, not great. The dust particles of course are not going to deter anyone’s enjoyment of the film, but for those expecting the best transfer on Blu-ray, this is one film that needs some cleaning up.
As for audio, fortunately the audio was great. The film is presented in English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD (and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital) and because of the many action scenes, you get great utilization of audio coming from all channels and even low frequency bass coming from the subwoofer. I notice some scenes with a crowd, you will be able to hear the crowds through your rears. Music taking advantage of bass but most of all chase scenes, crashes, explosions and bullet sounds directed through the various speaker channels quite nicely. The audio was a major plus for this Blu-ray release.
As for subtitles, subtitles are featured in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
The “PAYCHECK” Blu-ray Disc release includes the following special features:
- Commentary by Director John Woo – This film features on John Woo talking about the cast and the various shots and what he wanted to get. Woo talks about the various revisions done on the film and more.
- Commentary by Screenwriter Dean Georgaris – Similar to Woo, Georgaris talks about the storyline and the scenes incorporated from the short story to film. Also, the revisions made to the screenplay.
- Paycheck: Designing the Future – (18:14) Featuring interviews with Director John Woo, Producer Terence Chang, Production Designer William Sandell, Visual Effects Supervisor Gregory L. McMurry and the cast. How John Woo took the role and his style of directing. Both Affleck and Thurman are big fans of John Woo, so for them, it was a great experience to work with him. Also, learning about the talents and how they prepared for the role and John Woo talks about why he enjoyed working with the cast. From the making of the film to storyboards, set design and visual effects, this is covered in the featurette.
- Tempting Fate: The Stunts of Paycheck – (16:48) Interview with Gregg Smrz (Stunt Coordinator) and John Woo about the stunts in the film. From the motorcycle chase scene, to the building of the construction sites, how Ben Affleck wanted to do his own stunts, no CG used for the fight scenes. Things were pre-planned. Why they chose to go for no martial arts and more of a rugged, football/brawling fight moves and more.
- Extended/Deleted Scenes – (12:37) Featuring seven deleted and extended scenes. For example, Dr. Porter talking to her friend during the party about Jennings and trying to learn more about him.
“PAYCHECK” is actually a film that had a lot of potential. I really enjoyed the storyline of reverse engineering but also having the opportunity of seeing into the future and the ramifications if one had that technology. Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi stories from “Total Recall” and “Blade Runner” are sci-fi classics that you know that you are going to get a storyline that sci-fi geeks (like myself) can go nuts over.
Having John Woo as a director is like the icing on the cake. His camera shots, the way the film is cut, the use of his trademark dove, if there was a director that could make this film a fun, entertaining action film, John Woo is a perfect choice.
With that being said, unfortunately, the screenplay by Dean Georgaris and Woo’s main focus on the action took what could have been an intellectual thriller, to a film that features mostly all acting and no substance for the characters of Michael Jennings and Dr. Porter. One is an engineer and one is a scientist, but they ended up being more superhero-like that somehow, due to the lack of any character development to make us really care for these two characters, the storyline and even the acting just falls a bit flat.
The film is entertaining but somehow, Ben Affleck doesn’t come alive as an engineer and action star for this film, John Woo wanted Matt Damon originally (especially since he’s shown what he brought to the Bourne trilogies). Uma Thurman, great to see her doing more action since her “Kill Bill” films but her character was not exactly used efficiently. Paul Giamatti was like the comic relief of the film and Aaron Eckhart did an OK job but again, his character was not used efficiently.
As for the Blu-ray release, I was a bit surprised by how much dust was evident throughout the film and that is something I really don’t like to see for any film when transferred on Blu-ray. The audio was well done but you want the picture quality to match the audio quality in HD goodness and unfortunately, it doesn’t happen for this release. Also, you are not getting anything new from the original DVD release, so if you own the DVD and wonder if it’s worth double dipping, unfortunately I have to say no.
“PAYCHECK” was indeed a film with a lot of potential but for Philip K. Dick stories, you want to have a smart, sci-fi thriller in combination with the action but most of all, good character development. Unfortunately, the film did not meet that potential.
For those who want a straight-up action film, you will definitely be entertained by “PAYCHECK” but for those who want a storyline much deeper, unfortunately “PAYCHECK” suffers from lack of strong character development, not-so-effective acting and a compromised adaptation from short story to film.
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