Affleck has made a declaration that he will not be in any more action films after "Paycheck" flopped critically and financially, and then there was "Daredevil" which had its flaws but was really fun, but it's his film choices that have done him wrong career-wise not action films. He has a lot of charisma, there's no doubting that, and he has appeal, but if "Paycheck" is any indicator, we won't need a time machine to discover what will become of his acting career.
Ben Affleck stars as engineer and designer Michael Jennings, a basic technological whiz who works on top secret software and then proceeds to get his memory wiped so he wont divulge the secrets. One day he's approached by his friend James to work on a top secret ultra- classified project for an organization, the only problem is it will take three years, and the machine wipes the number of time it took for the project from the mind and Michael is weary about losing three years of his life. Despite the warnings from his friend Shorty, he agrees to work on the project. He awakes later on to discover he's lost three years of his life, unaware that he's worked for so long, and suddenly finds he's a fugitive from the government being declared as a traitor to the US. He manages to escape and now finds he's the target of the corporation he was hired by led by James, and now it's cleft versus cleft as Michael must rely on mysterious items sent to him to form his fight for his life, memory, and ultimately his paycheck.
There's some pretty cool directing courtesy of John Woo, whom I was never a fan of, but there's really no denying here with dramatic slow motion, some groovy split screens in the middle, and great imagery regarding the future, and there's his always faithful trademarks including the doves, and the always kick ass, always incredible Mexican stand-off between the hero and villain. It's quite a dramatic and always riling scene used in his other films including "Face/Off". Some people may declare this a rip-off of "Minority Report" with the hovering computer screen, a lot of pop up ads, and so on, but I like to think they're really from the same reality, Dick did create both stories, so leave the comparisons out. Aaron Eckhart is one of the few bright lights in the film, doing what he does best, flexing his large cleft and being a really awful villain to hate. Eckhart proved his knack for being the villain in the film "In the Company of Men" and does it pretty well here scoffing and scowling and just doing what he does best. Eckhart can play the bad guy without going over the top and it's always cool to see him do his thing. The story, while just tired, has a very cool, very neat ironic plot twist in the end regarding the main character's invention that just blew my mind. It's rare that a film I do not like will blow my mind halfway through, but it worked here, and for that, I have to give it it's due.
I haven't been a fan of Phillip K. Dick adaptations in the past, I thought "Total Recall" and "Bladerunner" were terrible, but I did like "Minority Report". Dick has a habit for creating stories that revolve around a man being chased by an evil corporation and this is no exception, except it's a rather bad film. The film is set-up right from the beginning with such predictability it was actually a rather sloppy device on part of the screenwriters who set up plot devices that you know will come into play later on in the story, everything introduced in the beginning is so blatantly staged for later purposes in favor of the hero, and there are a lot of sloppy conveniently placed plot devices to move the story forward including lotto drawing on TV, the climactic motorcycle chase through yard that goes on too long, and somehow the detectives chasing Michael never solve the clues leading them to him until the right time of the story when the script calls for it to be done so, and there's even the weather machine Thurman's character uses at the opening of the film that she later uses to confuse the thugs, which is odd because if confuses them but Affleck's character is perfectly organized during battle.
Most of it is very predictable and so obvious and instantly draws us away from the characters because everything here feels very artificial and very staged. Nothing here feels genuine and every suit, every glass, and every expression feels so fake it's hard to believe anything is futuristic. Worst of all, the cast is wasted with horrible acting in part of Affleck and Thurman who have no chemistry whatsoever. Thurman is more of a tool here used as an awkward love interest who helps Affleck's character, but she's so bad in the film I was never involved in their storyline to begin with. Her facial expressions are exaggerated , her attempt at seduction and sex appeal is often over the top as the script attempts to pit the two characters with amusing flirtatious dialogue, but it's all so hilariously awful, we never really care if they get together or not.
Thurman is horrible and stale in this film with nothing to do except try to look sexy and act as the damsel in in distress, meanwhile Affleck is grossly miscast here with little charisma, appeal and dimension as the hero who conveniently knows martial arts which will, voila, come in handy later on. Affleck is terrible acting like a cardboard cut out and just looks bored, and besides that he looks pretty goofy with neat hair aside from his usual groovy spiky or combed back do. Paul Giamatti, is there any other actor beside him that is more under-appreciated? I know, you could name a few, and so could I, but Giamatti who plays supporting character comic relief serves no purpose here and shouldn't even be considered part of the cast since he has only a total of about four scenes in the entire story that have no real function other than dispensing with his usual dialogue and loosening the slack for the cast. Giamatti who is very funny and talented is so under-used in this film it's almost criminal. The film follows along on this stream of far-fetched ideas that never really add up and much of it is very hard to believe.
There's this once again future idea about time travel and the ability to do so which is deemed impossible in the beginning but is accomplished. Every item in the envelope leads up to one escape scenario after the other, but the time loop makes no sense. If the character Michael saw into the future and saw his escape and sent the items for later use, how did he escape the first time without any help? Then the memory wipe machine which is never explained is supposed to be a genuine use for wiping one's memory and it works with Michael, but somehow he can operate his machine (which looks like the machine from "Stargate") without fail, hesitation, or instructions.
There's never really a reasonable explanation for the company's purpose in creating such a machine in the first place, is it for world domination? To spy on other companies inventions? What? It's only expected of us to believe that they're evil so we can't question why they want the machine. Everything always seem to fall right into place here with everything seeming to work out in favor of the main characters and they never fail. Some shots are so obvious it becomes almost like paint by numbers where you can pretty much point out everything that's coming, "Oh the wrench fell by the gate, so you know they're going to escape through there".
Ben Affleck needs a hit and bad, and clearly his choice in films with over-exposure have garnered him some real flops. Sometimes neat and never awful, in spite of it "Paycheck" is a bland, artificial, boring, and badly acted science fiction yarn with a knack for lapses in logic and plot holes.