High-Tech Hunk Caught Between Bitter Rivals
Early on through Paranoia, a lifeless, conventional and disappointing movie from Robert Luketic, Gary Oldman says, “Nothing original is left in the world.” His character is specifically referring to the technological industry, but Oldman knows this vague expression encompasses the script he’s reading, too. Up through its tidy and lackluster finish, it seems everyone on the screen has accepted that sentiment.
Paranoia, written by Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy adapting Joseph Finder’s novel, is a thriller without any thrills. Keeping one intense expression throughout its entirety is Liam Hemsworth, the pretty-faced hunk whom we are meant to care about. He plays Adam Cassidy, an ambitious low-level employee at a cell-phone software company working for Nicholas Wyatt (Oldman) in New York City. After a failed pitch to the boss, Adam and his nerdy colleagues lose their jobs, but a scheming Wyatt brings Adam back to illegally infiltrate his tech-rival’s secrets.
Adam poses as a new employee at Eikon, owned by Wyatt’s former coworker now extreme competitor Jock Goddard (played with a buzzed head by Harrison Ford), who doesn’t show up in the film until nearly halfway. Adam’s incentive for this subversion is a combo platter of immediate wealth, to help pay his ailing oxygen-infused dad’s (Richard Dreyfus) hospital bills, and blank desire to know how the other half lives. The shakeup to this undercover plan involves a love interest for Adam in overachiever Emma Jennings (an underused Amber Heard) whose hard shell cracks after a one-night stand, and subsequent inevitable love scenes.
What Luketic fails to grasp is that a bumping techno score and scenes shot at night do not alone provide the atmospheric presence a movie like this needs. Filmed mostly in Philadelphia, with recognizable shots of the Comcast building, among others, we never forget this should be taking place in Manhattan thanks to numerous flyover shots. A couple of early scenes look upward to spot a mysterious helicopter flying, and later we catch glimpses of a sneaky operative following Adam around. This is the start of a trippy, Big Brother subtext right?
Unfortunately, it is not. In fact the closest thing to our pure protagonist experiencing any semblance of paranoia is in his apartment, when he realizes Wyatt has stuck surveillance cameras all over his walls. Later, with building security on his tail and just minutes to escape, Adam slowly gazes at his stopwatch and mildly jogs away before time runs out. It’s almost as if Hemsworth, after reading his part, knew his outcome never presented any mortal danger, and thought not to insinuate for our benefit. After all, his un-panicking presence saturates almost every single scene, as if his absence would lessen a movie with Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman as partial, meddling players. I’ve never seen someone gobble up more useless screen time and keep the same hollow demeanor.
So it goes without saying that the best and funniest part of Paranoia is Oldman and Ford shouting obscenities at each other. Maybe they’re yelling about double-crossing each other’s clunky smart phone blue prints, but really they’re just showing young Liam what it’s like to pick up a handsome paycheck for a formulaic and out of touch dud. Even when Wyatt’s physical enforcer (Julian McMahon) threatens Adam to carry out his mission, the worry and fear evaporates into the next incongruous scene.
Luketic, whose directorial work has produced a fair share of romantic comedies (Legally Blonde, The Ugly Truth), clearly seems more enamored with New York City nightlife than the inner workings of a software company. It’s also why Amber Heard’s assiduous character becomes nothing more than a needy prop for Adam’s little emotional core. Goddard’s cliché motto is that “competition fuels innovation.” He certainly wasn’t referring to this movie and it’s misleading title.