Michael Jennings (Affleck) is a reverse engineer. His job is to acquire newly developed technology, take it apart, and discover what it is that makes it tick. Once he figures that out, he then adapts it to the needs of whatever company hires him so that they can compete with (or improve upon) their competitor's offerings. It's a risky and covert operation that requires Jennings to undergo "memory wipes" after his work is done so that those who hire him can rest assured he no longer carries any information that can implicate them in the theft of someone else’s ideas.
When Jennings' old college buddy Jimmy (Eckhart) offers him an obscene amount of money for a top-secret job that will cost him three years of memories (the length of the contract), he reluctantly accepts the offer despite the risks of the unprecedented length of the memory wipe he will have to endure once his work is done.
It's now three years later, and, to Jennings, it's seems like merely moments have passed. Jimmy assures him that he is now a wealthy man, and Jennings leaves to pick up the belongings he left behind. What he discovers, however, is that he's forsaken his stock options for an envelope of miscellaneous trinkets; hairspray, a car key, matches, a bullet, etc. While he has no memory of any of this, his signature on the package is his, and soon he realizes that these seemingly innocuous items are the keys to his survival as he is pursued by both the F.B.I. and his former friend who now wants him dead.
Based on a story by cyberpunk legend, Philip K. Dick, Paycheck is a slick and exciting marriage of action cinema and sci-fi. I especially enjoyed the whole concept of the "pre-memory-wipe-Jennings" leaving behind an envelope of assorted items, and leaving it up to future-Jennings to figure out their use "on the fly". The way this envelope comes to serve Jennings' as a weapon is inspired stuff, as he has to adapt to certain situations by using certain items. For example, while being chased by the F.B.I., Jennings finds himself trapped in a bus terminal, falls, spills the contents of the envelope, only to find a bus pass within. He gets out in the nick of time, and the package's mystery begins to reveal itself to him.
Affleck, Eckhart, and Thurman (who plays Jenning's love interest he no longer remembers) are solid as always, but it's Paul Giamatti, as Jenning's pal/memory wipe expert Shorty, who really shines in his limited screen time. Woo's direction is quite restrained here, with his trademark slow motion action and gun ballet barely employed. Of course, we do get several "Mexican stand-offs" as well as the obligatory flying doves and religious iconography that are his signature, but, for the most part, his contributions are much less invasive than his previous works, and I found it refreshing.
Paycheck steps into the future on Blu-ray with a mostly solid 1080p transfer. Detail is exceptional, while the film's subdued color palette is reproduced faithfully. Flesh tones are even and pleasing, with nary a hint of oversaturation. Grain is minimal, but I did notice some slight occasional motion smearing, which I credit to liberal use of digital noise reduction. Blacks are deep and true, giving the image a nice sense of depth and dimension.
The Dolby True HD 5.1 track is thunderous, with throbbing bass and crisp highs co-existing beautifully. There's a nice percussive quality to the gunfire effects; so much so that you can almost feel them in your chest at high volume! The surround effects are nicely implemented, creating a lush, three-dimensional soundscape that belies the treatment one would expect from a "catalog" title.
Paramount ports over Paycheck's DVD content, including a charming and informative commentary by Woo, a commentary by screenwriter Dean Georgaris that touches upon how he went about adapting Dick's original short story, as well as two featurettes; "Paycheck: Designing the Future" and "Tempting Fate: The Stunts of Paycheck". Deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer round out the goods
Paycheck didn't fare too well at the box-office upon its initial release, and I can't help but feel that this had more to do with the sensationalized romantic exploits of its star rather than the quality of the film itself. I personally enjoyed the heck out of this film, appreciated it's expert blending of hardcore sci-fi and action, and was quite impressed with John Woo's approach to the material. The Blu-ray offers great picture and sound quality, as well as all of the extras from the DVD, so fans of this film should definitely consider this one deserving of the upgrade.