The locally shot Paycheck combines John Woo's customary flair for action with a clever story by sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick and an uneven homage to Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. The results are decidedly mixed. Affleck stars as Michael Jennings, a hotshot engineer working on top-secret projects with a shadowy corporation known as Allcom. He gets paid a lot of money for his expertise. The catch? Jennings has all the memories accumulated over the length of each assignment electronically erased after it is completed.
Jennings doesn't mind giving up a couple of months' worth of memories for the sake of a fat paycheque, but when the head of Allcom (Aaron Eckhart) approaches him with a job that will swap three years of memories for over $90 million, we know something sinister is up.
Three years later, Jennings has finished the job, his memory has been erased, and everyone at Allcom seems happy. Michael is looking forward to spending some of his millions, but, much to his surprise, he discovers that he's signed away his fortune for an envelope containing only 19 ordinary household items. Why would anybody swap the paycheque of a lifetime for objects that include a lighter, a can of hair spray, and a magnifying glass?
Jennings doesn't know the answer, of course, but it gradually dawns on him that he's anticipated seeing into his own future. While everyone from Allcom thugs to the FBI rough him up over an invaluable piece of technology he has no memory of developing, his only defence against increasing danger is the envelope of items he left for himself.
It's an intriguing premise that Woo tries to goose along with an affectionate tribute to North by Northwest, which succeeds on a couple of levels. Unfortunately, the cast isn't up to the retro challenge. Uma Thurman, who costars as the girlfriend Jennings doesn't remember, looks fragile and distracted; in contrast, Affleck comes across like a tanning-booth version of Cary Grant. His performance features a couple of truly embarrassing moments, including the annoying habit of showing fear by darting his eyeballs back and forth. Maybe he should take a cue from Paycheck and just erase this one.