Adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi short stories have been a mixed bag so far. “Blade Runner” (1982) was good, “Total Recall” (1990) was mindless, “Impostor” (2002) was stupid, “Minority Report” (2002) was great, and now we have “Paycheck,” a fast-paced little potboiler that neither helps nor hurts the Philip K. Dick genre.
It’s a film as innocuous and unmemorable as its lead actor, Ben Affleck, who plays a high-priced computer engineer named Michael Jennings. In this version of the present day, there is technology which allows you to erase a certain portion of a person’s memory — the last 10 days, say. What Michael does is he goes to big companies, designs fantastic products for them, then has his memory wiped clean as part of his non-disclosure agreement. The company doesn’t have to worry about him selling what he knows to their competitors, and Michael gets a fat paycheck for doing something he now has no memory of. Life is sweet, no?
Ah, then his wormy old buddy Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart) hires him to spend three years — THREE YEARS! — working on a top-secret project that, we eventually learn, deals with predicting the future. When Michael emerges from the memory-wiping session, he discovers he’s wanted in connection with some criminal activity, and that he mailed himself a bag of worthless items instead of taking stock options for payment. He can’t remember doing this, of course, much less why — but the worthless items begin proving useful, and he realizes he’s orchestrated his own escape from the law in advance, if he can figure out the clues he left for himself.
These are some good old-fashioned plot devices here: the innocent man on the run, the guy with no memory, the man who wants to change the future, and so on. Affleck carries the film well enough, helped considerably by Uma Thurman as his girlfriend, in whose hands something ordinary like a wrench or a motorcycle helmet can be used to great effect.
Director John Woo doesn’t employ the same visual stylishness as most of his films, though he does force his trademark doves into one scene, absurdly enough. The screenplay, by Dean Georgaris (“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life”), is pretty vague on HOW, exactly, Rethrick’s machine is seeing the future; either you buy it because it’s a sci-fi movie and you have to buy it, or you don’t. Most of the sci has been dropped altogether, and the remaining fi is basic stuff, entertaining as far as it goes, but nothing special. It moves quickly, doesn’t belabor the obvious, doesn’t do anything stupid, and will be forgotten the moment you exit the theater, even without the use of memory-wiping technology.
C+ (1 hr., 50 min.; )