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Fantasia Review: In a Valley of Violence
Michael Jennings is the best at what he does: Getting hired by clients to reverse-engineer rival companies' technologies. As a way of insuring against leaked info, Jennings' memory is selectively erased each time he receives his payments. Against the advice of some of his associates, he is hired on to do a particular job lasting 3 years. When the job's done, he gets wiped. Unfortunately, whatever he was working on comes back to haunt him, as he finds out he's a wanted man with little time to work out what happened. His only clue is an envelope he mailed to himself prior to his wipe, which he must use to stay ahead of the feds.
I've always loved John Woo's films. The guy really is to action films what hookers are to blow. Sure, ever since his North American debut with HARD TARGET, his work has gradually strayed farther from the likes of HARD BOILED and THE KILLER, but it's still a blast to watch. That is until I saw his last North American film, 2003's PAYCHECK, and wondered what happened to the Woo of old. Hard to believe that with a story and cast like this, the film went south.
As is the standard for Woo films, there's no shortage of action, which is really the biggest reason for John Woo films. Chase scenes galore (including one on motorcycle going against the flow of traffic), awesome stunts, Mexican standoffs and doves aplenty. Coupled with a quick pace and good use of effects, it's not like you're going to get bored watching this.
In regards to the cast, a lot of reviewers bad-mouthed Ben Affleck's performance in the film, but I think a lot of it was holdover from DAREDEVIL and GIGLI. Ben's oft-used look of stupefication is here again, which kind of suits his character. His performance is okay, as was Uma Thurman's (and her bugeyed expression) as the love interest. Don't be surprised if you find yourself chuckling at the attempts between the two to develop character emotion. Aaron Eckhart shows glimpses of what he would be able to pull off in THE DARK KNIGHT, though in this film he's the bad guy through it's entirety.
So what went wrong? Well, being that the film is based off the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick, there's going to be a lot to pad out, which is where things start to crumble. Having Uma's character drop the envelope containing the items just after a big action sequence, only to serve as a reason for Ben's character to go back and walk into another action big sequence is funny in a weird sort of way, but it's still too convenient of a plot device. These action sequences are made all the more absurd when you remember that the two protagonists are scientists who suddenly turn into action heroes. Instances of TRANSPORTER logic (read: the 'you gotta be sh*tting me!' type) for some action sequences and plotholes turns the film groan-worthy and frustrating for those looking for something serious.
It's not that PAYCHECK is bad. It's just not to be taken as a serious sci-fi film, nor is it to be taken as a serious action film. It knows that it's over the top at times, and isn't afraid to do those 'winks' at the audience. That, however, is the problem. It's not intense enough to put you on the edge of your seat, nor is it intriguing enough to be looked at with a straight face. It doesn't satisfy one or the other. Basically, the film's a one-shot deal that you probably won't come back to for a while, but it's satisfying enough as a weekend rental.
Video: Presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, PAYCHECK looks great in HD. Great colour saturation and superb detail drive this transfer, with only a few instances of line shimmer and softness.
Audio: Audio choices are a lossless English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Being John Woo, this mix is loud, aggressive and enveloping. Dialogue is sharp and very clear, and the other sound effects and score are put to good use.
First up is a commentary track with director John Woo, who talks more vision and style and theory, while the second commentary track with screenwriter Dean Georgaris delves into individual scenes and talks about the revisions mades to the film. Both are quite informative, but they reach the point at times where they talk just to avoid dead air. The obvious solution would have been to edit the two commentaries together, or better yet, have both do a single commentary together.
Next up is Paycheck: Designing The Future, which clocks in at 18 minutes and in SD. Woo, Georgaris, Affleck and Thurman all have their say on the design of the film. As well, the featurette delves into the special effects shots and stunts of the film.
With the first featurette touching on stunts, the second featurette fits in nicely. Also presented in SD, Tempting Fate: The Stunts Of Paycheck runs 16 minutes and deconstructs the stunt sequences, particularly the 'motorcycle chase against the flow of traffic' scene.
Lastly, we get six deleted/extended scenes and an alternate ending. The former runs 10 minutes, and really amount to furthering points that are already established in the film. Interesting, but no real loss. As for the alternate ending, compared to the one that's in the film now, it's the greater of the two evils, combining a weaker execution with the same cheese that's in there right now.
Once again, where's the f*ckin' trailer, Paramount?! Even if it was bad, I still wanted it!
Fun action sequences marred by some bad writing and an attempt to stretch out a short story into a longer one (and faltering along the way), PAYCHECK is an enjoyable fire-and-forget from Woo. Here's hoping he gets back to pulling off the stuff that we fell in love with in the first place.