Review | 'Paranoia'

There are bad movies that make you seethe with rage, and there are others that are profoundly offensive. Paranoia is neither of these. The story of a promising young developer who gets caught in the middle of a pissing match between rival tech tycoons, Robert Luketic’s thriller is aggressively mediocre, a movie with no momentum and nothing to say, but also nothing ambitious or interesting enough to get upset about.

Bolstered in its blandness by a lead performance by Liam Hemsworth, whose dearth of on-screen personality is the only saving grace for cringe-worthy performances by veterans Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, Paranoia gives no reason for audiences to look over their shoulder, but plenty of them to keep an eye on their watches.

Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) plays Adam Cassidy, a low-level employee at a tech company whose contentious presentation to CEO Nicholas Wyatt (Oldman) ends with him and his team being fired. But after celebrating his unemployment with a night on the town paid for with a company expense account, Adam is blackmailed by Wyatt into infiltrating the company of his competitor Jock Goddard (Ford) in exchange for a clean slate. Providing him with a sterling resume and the affluent lifestyle of an up-and-comer, Wyatt grooms him for a top position at Goddard’s company, and Adam’s natural abilities soon earn not only the CEO’s confidence, but the affection of Emma Jennings (Amber Heard), one of his subordinates. But as Wyatt grows increasingly impatient for Adam to steal a prototype phone, the young software designer finds himself being forced to choose between the two would-be mentors, either of who could seal his fate if he betrays them.

There aren’t a whole lot of instances where a film lets the air out of its own tires before it even gets going, but Paranoia is one of them. Following Adam’s aforementioned post-termination party, Wyatt confronts the young man, observing that he could have used that account to pay for any number of more important problems in his life – including his ailing father Frank’s (Richard Dreyfuss) $40,000 medical bills. That he decided to piss $15,000 down the drain on booze, which Wyatt observes is a testament to him wanting “to see how the other half lives,” sort of says all you need to know about Adam, in the worst possible way. That said, Adam further alienates the audience by repeatedly insulting his blue-collar father, who provided for him as a kid and who clearly loves him, but these are choices the character makes that feel too incriminating to ignore, particularly when we’re asked to sympathize with him later.

The film opens with a chase scene, over which Adam sheepishly confesses he simply wanted to be “another person” as an unknown assailant is pursuing him, but for a film that purports to maintain gripping tension and mounting danger, the stakes of its corporate espionage are painfully flaccid. Neither Wyatt nor Goddard is remotely interesting or sympathetic, and the invention that comes between them – a futuristic phone they both acknowledge will “change the game” – feels woefully unimportant, especially to the people who are most likely to identify with Adam, like the cubicle dwellers or low-level corporate drones he works with at the start of the film. Moreover, the narrative simultaneously escalates precipitously and seems completely slack, so from one scene to the next Adam is blissfully ascending the corporate ladder and agonizing over his subterfuge and back again, without any sense of smoothness or consistency. By the time Adam faces his final crisis, the climax feels equally rushed and overdue.

Thanks to The Hunger Games, Hemsworth may be an up-and-comer, but Paranoia indicates he still has a far, far way to go before he earns his place among Hollywood’s leading men. He certainly communicates the character’s ungrateful petulance, but hardly evidences his intelligence, and offers nothing resembling the deep-rooted quandary he faces once his social-climbing ambition begins to implode. Meanwhile, Ford and Oldman snipe at each other with a grinning mean-spiritedness that feels fully authentic given their professional and personal stature, but neither of them deliver performances that are especially convincing, and their bullying of Adam is mostly comical. But as Adam’s “woman in a man’s world” love interest Emma, Heard gives the worst performance in the film, flirting awkwardly with Hemsworth early in the film, and later acquiescing to “falling in love” with him with zero believability, except because the plot demands it.

Perhaps the worst offense the film commits is in completely betraying its title, as there is literally no moment in the film where Adam doesn’t know that Wyatt and his cronies are watching him – meaning he has no reason to be paranoid. But again, even the above shortcomings are largely inoffensive, even if they are too conspicuous to miss. Ultimately, Luketic’s latest is the type of movie that comes and goes without leaving an impression on anything – including the filmmakers’ careers, much less the audiences who pay to see it. In which case, unless you simply cannot go another day without watching Hemsworth on screen, or are related to any the people who made it, Paranoia is a movie that is best ignored entirely – that is, if you are aware, or later, remember that it ever existed in the first place.

Paranoia is playing now in theaters.

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