Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Paycheck a Dick Hack?

Paycheck, the latest big-dollar cinematic Dickwork, flogs the formula mercilessly.

Directed with verve, if not heart, by last-minute stand-in John Woo (Brett Ratner was originally set to helm), Paycheck taps all the Dickian themes made familiar by Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report: An unwitting drone stumbles upon a nefarious, identity-warping conspiracy that forces him to question the very nature of reality itself—not unlike Al Gore and Florida 2000, really. Here, hotshot engineer Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck), who's in the habit of renting himself out to high-tech outfits for the purposes of ripping off other high-tech outfits, pairs up with a filthy-rich college chum (Aaron Eckhart) to crack a hush-hush government time-travel gadget. The insouciant Jennings also allows his memory to be wiped clean after each assignment—a characteristic Affleck seems particularly suited to convey—and the latest is no exception. This time, however, instead of collecting a fat pay envelope for his troubles, he receives a confusing mix of everyday objects that point to some future catastrophe.

Woo's film is in some ways closer to Dick's—and his own—pulp roots, and if he lazily quotes himself (and, inexplicably, Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly) once too often, he at least gets loose, spirited performances from his cast—Uma's post-Kill Bill gravitas notwithstanding.

Still, a truly Dickian screen adaptation would require a director as around-the-bend as Dick himself.

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