'Paycheck', based on a short story by science fiction maestro Philip K. Dick, takes an idea used in many of his previous film adaptations and stretches it wafer thin. The tale is concocted using the common themes of memory, determinism and predestination (Dick's forte) with wild action chases and a hero on the lam. That hero is Michael Jennings (the characteristically smug Ben Affleck), a reverse engineer who locks himself for months on end inside a lab, disassembling, studying and replicating competitor products and eventually recreating better versions of them. His talent and determination are well rewarded by corporation head and friend Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart, seen most recently in "The Missing').
The catch is that he isn't allowed to remember whatever it is he has done and all memories of his work in the lab are painfully erased. Progressively, as the stakes get higher Michael is assigned on a clandestine 2 year research project for which he gets paid big bucks. However, once back to a life of normalcy, Michael learns he has forfeited all his shares, is wanted dead by his former cohorts and is left with a brown paper envelope of 19 seemingly useless items that he sent to himself from the past, to make use of in the present.
It is at this point that further description of the movie becomes meaningless as it nose dives into a fermented wasteland of extremely bad performances and gaping lapses in logic. Affleck, always odd as an action hero, does kung fu, races bikes and performs outrageous tricks with the gizmos at his disposal. For a science fiction movie, a sequence involving jamming an electronic swipe card control box at the door with a coin comes across as embarrassingly unspectacular and poor. Uma Thurman, as perfunctory love interest Rachel Porter, reaches a new career trough. Her usually assured deportment is here replaced by the passive casualness of her 'Bride' from 'Kill Bill'.
Thrillers are usually more interesting when we as an audience make discoveries with the character, not when we stay one step ahead and foretell what is about to take place. Movies like 'Paycheck', which corrupt the original work of their authors, are the primary reason why Dick preferred to keep a safe distance from Hollywood for as long as he was alive. The movie is stamped with the signature Woo nonsense familiar to audiences since his waning work on 'Mission Impossible 2', and not the bleak subject material usually explored in a Philip Dick story. A glaring indication of its frail storyline is evident from the fact that for much of its second half, 'Paycheck' assembles itself solely around each of the 19 items in the brown paper envelope. By the end of it all, the brown paper envelope had earned my respect in becoming the handiest sidekick since the magician's hat. - Faizan Rashid