Michael Jennings is a genius who's hired -- and paid handsomely -- by high-tech firms to work on highly sensitive projects, after which his short-term memory is erased so he's incapable of breaching security. But at the end of a three-year job, he's told he isn't getting a paycheck and instead receives a mysterious envelope. In it are clues he must piece together to find out why he wasn't paid … and how he's gotten in hot water.
John Woo directing a Philip K. Dick adaptation — that certainly sounds like the opposite of coal in the stocking. Or at least it might have sounded that way in 1990. Since then, Dick's posthumous legacy has suffered through movies like "Impostor," and Mr. Woo made "Windtalkers." But their new meeting of temperaments is surprisingly adept, given that it's basically a dumb movie about smart people. This smooth but bland thriller may be the best we could possibly expect from such a collaboration, especially when Ben Affleck — an actor whose becalmed exterior reflects an inability to project an inner life — is added to the mix. He plays Michael Jennings, a hotshot inventor who steals the ideas and properties of other corporations, and refines them for competitors. For legal reasons, Michael gets his mind wiped clean of the theft by a dangerous medical process that nearly boils his brain. This procedure also eliminates Michael's memory of the entire period he spent at work — all for a paycheck. When a new, less dangerous procedure comes along — one that can safely do away with three years, instead of a few months — Michael is invited by an old friend to get involved in a project that could potentially change the world, and net Michael an eight-figure income. He will come out three years later with a larger bank balance and no idea of his accomplishments. It's here that the sleek, ascetic paranoia that Dick triggered in his short story "Paycheck" surfaces: the invasion of the mind and soul. — Elvis Mitchell
2003-12-25 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of Paycheck