I wish I could say that Paranoia directed by Robert Luketic from a screenplay by Jason Hall and Barry L. Levy lives up to the hyped genre of action thriller, but I can’t. Part of the problem is that Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman are underutilized as nefarious enemy CEOs of rival companies. If these brilliant and beloved actors had meatier roles, they could have added the necessary zing to increase the suspense and heighten the conflict in the film. When they are onscreen, they are a joy to watch, especially when they face off against one another. Their combustion sparks fire. It is too brief and too late, tamped down by flatlining performances and the predictable turn of the plot: a young man’s misplaced ambition, seduced by corporate amorality and corruption results in a hard won object lesson.
Unfortunately, the film hinges on the performance of Liam Hemsworth and Amber Heard to add passion and interest. Were we supposed to be mesmerized by the beauty of youth despite its callow lack of depth and believability? Paranoia just doesn’t deliver and it was apparent when the audience found more interest in a shouted-out comment from a heckler that was a pleasant respite from the boredom of what was otherwise a trek into one hundred plus minutes of somnolence.
The title of the film is a miscue and leads us to a dead end. This is a crucial mistake as there is no suspicion built into the plot, action and conflict, something which we crave. Everything is obvious. There are no surprises with the pat, paper thin characterizations. The protagonist should at least have some specifically human details so we can identify and feel empathy for the rotten situation he finds himself. That his own greed and stupidity have initiated his problem is not something we can identify with, especially given his supposed brilliance.
Instead, we have to overlook the contradictions and superficiality of gorgeous but lame Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth). Adam doesn’t want to turn out like his father, Frank Cassidy (an ill used and poorly directed Richard Dreyfus) who can’t afford his hospital bills, can’t afford medical insurance, and who has to live off his son. The Cassidys are bridge and tunnel folks, but Adam yearns to be a player and live in Manhattan. This vaulted ambition leads him and his team of innovators to create something they hope their boss, Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) of Wyatt Corporation will find useful and profitable. Wyatt, the brilliant, carnivorous, self-made CEO of his own global tech company is appalled at their presentation pitch which fizzles like a bum firecracker. He summarily fires all of them on the spot. In an action that makes little sense except to further the plot, Adam commits fraud and theft, using the company’s expense account to treat the team to a fun night at a club, spending over $15,000. Presumably, he has been placed by screenwriters at the dancing-drinking den so he can meet love interest Emma Jennings (Amber Heard), go to her apartment, stay the night then hear her snarky comments as she kicks him out the door because he is an economically challenged flea.
Wyatt has been conducting surveillance on all of Adam’s actions and whereabouts on camera, collecting evidence he can use against him in a court of law. He has go-to-thug Miles Meachum (Julian McMahon who tries his best and is somewhat menacing) grab him and bring him to his office. In a scene that stretches our already dulled imagination, Wyatt confronts Adam and blackmails him with prison unless he gets intelligence on hated foe, Jock Goddard’s (Harrison Ford) latest invention that is supposedly revolutionary. Adam will be Wyatt’s pawn committing industrial espionage from the inside as Goddard’s employee. Wyatt uber psychologist Dr. Judith Bolton (Embeth Davidtz is always interesting.) will train him to look and act the part.
Here are all the overused cliches in the first few scenes. How Adam gleans the intel, how he “coincidentally” meets Emma Jennings, an employee at Eikon (Goddard’s company), how he tries (lamely) to extricate himself when the FBI shows up with pictures of former Wyatt employees who’ve possibly been murdered is part of the passing parade. At the end, what could have been an interesting plot twist and “ah ha” moment falls on its head. Call it a fault of the film structure (Adam narrates the story.) the ineffective editing or the lackluster events that deliver no thrills or fearful anticipation that our “hero” is in danger. Call it the mysterious X factor. Somehow, we are passive watchers at the finish line and then we leave, when the race has not yet begun. If there was a race, I wish someone had told me.
One of the main problems is that the characterization, concepts, and the setting are a mishmash of old school, yet the film purports to be current. There is no driving sense of the millennial generation’s ethics (Adam is of the millennial age.). We are supposed to ignore the character contradictions: i.e. he’s a “slacker” and that’s why he accesses the company slush fund and allows himself to be blackmailed instead of going to jail or reporting his boss to the FBI. The film’s ambiance (even the tech part) feels like it’s before Occupy Wall Street, advocacy against global corporations that harm the public interest, SOPA, PIPA, the War on Women, global warming issues, fracking and civil rights privacy issues etc. Would that the screenplay adaptation of Joseph Finder’s novel of the same name have updated characters, conflicts, and setting. Then, maybe there would have been a race worth watching.