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Paycheck (***)
Directed by John Woo
Written by Dean Georgaris, based on a story by Philip K. Dick
Principal Cast
Ben Affleck -- Michael Jennings
Uma Thurman -- Rachel
Aaron Eckhart -- Rethrick
Emily Holmes -- Betsy
John Cassini -- Agent Mitchell
Fulvio Cecere -- Agent Fuman
Joe Coyle -- School Teacher
Colm Feore -- Wolf
Peter Friedman -- Attorney General
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Wall to wall dumbness with a nice car and motorcycle chase in the middle.

There is a comment by John Varley that should be compulsory reading for all movie directors. Varley was working on the film adaptation of his novel, Millennium, and he pointed out to the director one of the many dumb moments that the director had thoughtfully added to Varley's intelligent script. The director replied that the audience would be so dazzled with the special effects they wouldn't notice. We noticed. The movie was a flop. After wasting years of his creative life in Hollywood, at last report Varley was living in a trailer park. Needless to say, the director is not living in a trailer park -- directors have a sure-fire way to protect themselves from their own stupidity -- they blame it on the writer.

Great directors pay careful attention to the script: James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg. Their movies make lots and lots of money. Wouldn't you think that would motivate lesser directors to pay attention to the script? Why don't John Woo and Richard Donner buy good scripts? Surely John Woo could afford a better writer than Dean Georgaris, whose only previous script was the recent Tomb Raider flop. But these directors need to believe that their own genius is so great that mere writers are unnecessary. And they blame their declining careers on... well, everybody except themselves.

Just how dumb is Paycheck? Probably the dumbest line in the whole movie is the one where we are told that Einstein said that if we have a telescope powerful enough to see around the whole universe, we can see into the future. No. The dumb moments come thick and fast, about one every five minutes. During the car and motorcycle chase, which has nothing to do with the plot but is still the best thing in the film, I could swear I saw the motorcycle reverse direction four times in a matter of seconds. It's going against the traffic -- it's going with the traffic -- it's going against the traffic -- it's going with the traffic -- it's going against the traffic again. Two villains in two cars follow our hero into a lot full of empty trailers and large pipes that obviously has no purpose except in which to stage a car and motorcycle chase. One car crashes into a pipe and explodes. Down to one villain, right? The other car crashes and explodes -- whoops, back up to two villains again. This director can't even count!

Imagination Just one more -- it's like eating potato chips. At the very beginning of the movie, the hero invents a television that projects a free-standing three-dimensional picture. Wow! And to invent that television he uses -- well, the computer interface from Minority Report looked cool, why not "borrow" that. The reason not to borrow the computer interface from Minority Report is that it uses -- what? -- free-standing three-dimensional images. Our hero uses technology more advanced than the technology he is inventing!

The Philip K. Dick story upon which this film is based was published in the June 1953 issue of Imagination. Every good idea in the movie is right out of the short story. But the short story is real science fiction, and so, instead of the future looking exactly like the present, we have nice touches like "They're teaching school children to inform now. But we all saw that coming." And "The robot conductor was coming toward him whirring angrily." The movie replaces good ideas with bad and adds nothing of interest. Every idea in the film you saw in the previews, and they are all taken from a minor early story by Philip K. Dick. This isn't the worst based on a story by PKD. That would be Total Recall. But Paycheck is a long way from the best: Blade Runner and Minority Report.

Oh, in case you are wondering. "A code key. A ticket stub. A parcel receipt. A length of fine wire. Half a poker chip, broken across. A green strip of cloth. A bus token."

Copyright © 2004 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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