Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Saturday, January 03, 2004  

A saturday movie review: Paycheck.

In my annual "Goldies," I generally cite a worst picture award. It's never definitive, because I'm selective in my movie viewing (sor of), and I miss the year's most obvious losers. This year I dodged "Gigli" or "Cat in the Hat," for example. That being said, I'm going to make a strong case that "Paycheck" is the worst picture of the year and a poster movie (that's different from movie poster) for the problems with Hollywood.

Making this case isn't the easiest thing in the world. It's got good bones--a story from Philip K. Dick--and great production values. It has A-list actors (why Ben Affleck remains on the A list is another mystifying question, but not one we're considering here) and a well-regarded director. They spent the usual tens of millions to make it.

But there's no movie here--it's all constituent elements made by craftspeople assempled lifelessly (though beautifully) into 90 minutes of predictable, banal images. Hollywood is such an impressive industry now that if you have $80 million, you can hire the best cast and crew in the business. You don't have to have a script or a story--just a general sense of how you'd like the actors to be presented. Get a script doctor to string together cliches to link the images and you have a blockbuster. They're like a big ad for a movie, not the actual movie.

"Paycheck" is this an more. The number of mistakes made in assembling the film are too numerous to mention--rather they seem proof that no one even looked at a script. Woo just storyboarded a bunch of scenes, gave his editor a copy of the Philip K. Dick story, and told him to try to create narrative in postproduction (or anyway that's what it looks like).

Earlier this week I saw "The Cooler," , which was a mess. It had two plotlines going on simultaneously, confused themes, and a slightly mis-directed cast (sometimes William H. Macy talked like he'd just come off the "On the Waterfront" set; others like he was a down-on-his-luck accountant). But despite all the flaws, it was a wonderfully heartfelt movie, and I had real investment in the characters. Everyone was working very hard and the problem wasn't no story--it was too many stories. The director (who also wrote) will have some problems to correct when he starts his next picture. I just hope he doesn't try to fix them by getting Warner Brothers to advance him $80 million.

posted by Jeff | 10:03 AM |
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