August 17, 2013

Paranoia

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Paranoia

THRILLER:

United States, 2013

U.S. Release Date:

2013-08-16

Running Length:

1:41

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Amber Heard, Lucas Till, Embeth Davidtz, Julian McMahon, Josh Holloway, Richard Dreyfuss

Director:

Robert Luketic

Screenplay:

Jason Hall and Barry L. Levy, based on the novel by Joseph Finder

Cinematography:

David Tattersall

Music:

Junkie XL

U.S. Distributor:

Relativity Media

Subtitles:

none


I've seen movies like this more often than I'd like to admit: glitzy thrillers with less intelligence than a smart rutabaga where big-name actors pick up a paycheck while trying with limited success not to embarrass themselves and the studio keeps it hidden from critics. Yes, Paranoia is one of those. It's the kind of film you go into hoping for a guilty pleasure - after all, it's got Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford. They played effectively against one another in Air Force One, right? (Yes, but that was directed by Wolfgang Petersen.) How bad could it be? However, once you realize there's no "pleasure" to be had from something this wantonly dumb and idiotically constructed, all that's left is "guilt" - guilt that you actually spent money to see this. Caveat emptor.

Assessing responsibility for the film's failure is difficult. Maybe the fault lies in Joseph Finder's source material. (I haven't read the book.) Or maybe it has something to do with the screenplay adaptation. Barry L. Levy previously wrote Vantage Point, which was okay; Jason Hall wrote Spread, which wasn't. Or maybe it's Robert Luketic's fault; it's questionable why producers would bring in the director of fluffy romantic stuff like Legally Blonde and The Ugly Truth to make a high-tech thriller. Regardless, the end result is that the movie doesn't make a whole lot of sense and, when it does, it would be better off not doing so. There's no understanding of corporate security or how things work in the telecom industry. And there's a trickle-down effect to this stupidity: it infects everything, including how the characters act and interact.

Neither Liam Hemsworth, who plays protagonist Adam Cassidy, nor Amber Heard, who has the thankless role of his love interest, Emma Jennings, is effective and their on-screen chemistry could best be described as limited. The most interesting exchange between them occurs when they toss techie terms at one another over lunch. Foreplay for geeks. Oldman and Ford fall back on comfortable acting patterns: the former chews scenery and the latter resorts to a low-key approach that results in him fading into the background. As Adam's dad, Richard Dreyfuss spends a third of his screen time in an easy chair, a third in a hospital bed, a third on the stoop, and all the time making us feel terribly sad that a once-respected actor has come to this.

The story goes something like this: Ambitious hotshot Adam Cassidy works at Wyattcorp, a cutthroat cell phone manufacturer. After a failed presentation in front of the corporation's CEO, Nicholas Wyatt (Oldman), he finds himself unemployed. But Wyatt decides to give Adam a second chance. The mission is to infiltrate the inner circle of rival company Eikon, run by Wyatt's former mentor, Jock Goddard (Ford), and steal the plans for a super-secret new gadget. To help, Wyatt supplies him with an exclusive apartment, an impressive resume, and lessons about how to "fit in" administered by psychiatrist Judith Bolton (Embeth Davidtz). She's Henry Higgins to Adam's Eliza Dolittle. The stage is set for espionage but Adam's infatuation for Eikon's marketing manager Emma Jennings and his affinity for Jock - not to mention a growing distrust of Wyatt - make it difficult for him to continue with his assignment. This doesn't sit well with Wyatt, who dispatches a henchman (Julian McMahon) to convince Adam that reneging on their deal is not in his best interests.

Paranoia's feeble, straightforward conclusion is a disappointment on many levels, not the least of which is that it offers little in the way of surprises or twists. Okay, maybe there is a twist, but it's so obvious that it doesn't count as one. The resolution is unimaginative and unbelievable. It amazes me how, in the movie world, supposedly brilliant and ruthless men are undone by such simple things. In a smarter movie, Adam would get eaten alive and spit out by people like Wyatt and Goddard. Emma wouldn't fall for his superficial charm. And we'd have a potentially interesting tale. But that's not what Luketic gives us. Instead, we're stuck with a film that's released in mid-August with no advance screenings. That, more than anything, is descriptive of what Paranoia represents.

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