"Paranoia," the new techno-thriller from "Legally Blonde" and "The Ugly Truth" director Robert Luketic, is the most difficult kind of film to write a review for. It’s not a good movie or even a particularly entertaining one, but at the same time, it’s hard to feel any spite or anger toward the movie. Hell, it’s hard to feel anything toward "Paranoia." It’s a product of apathy that, in turn, inspires more apathy.
You don’t really watch "Paranoia"; you register it. The senses passively process the flashing lights and colors on screen while the mind meanders to other things. Did I eat dinner tonight? Where’s the nearest grocery store? I wonder if "Chopped" will be on tonight or if it’ll just be another "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" marathon. Why are there subtitles on the screen now? Oh, those are the end credits. I guess I can leave now.
The film doesn’t deserve bile being spewed in its direction, but considering how illogical and inert it all is, it’s worth asking why it even bothered showing up in the first place.
The blandness begins with the main character, Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth, letting his abs do most of the acting), a low-level cubicle drone at a high-tech cell phone company. The audience is first introduced to Adam via voiceover, where he spouts some of the key bullet points of the Frustrated Millennial Manifesto. School doesn’t ensure a job anymore. Greedy old folks run the world. Mom and dad don’t understand. Life is hard, etc.
They’re all very relatable gripes. It’s just too bad Adam then behaves like one of the "generation me" youths that give millennials a bad name. After he turns into a defensive hothead during a pitch to his snooty boss Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) and gets himself – and his team – fired, they decide to hit the club with their company credit card, take selfies and order up thousands of dollars in shots, beer and more shots.
Pro tip: Don’t do this.
Wyatt, of course, finds out about the evaporated funds. Instead of merely making him pay the money back, however, he blackmails him into infiltrating the higher ups of Wyatt’s rival, Jock Goddard (a bald Harrison Ford), and stealing the secret game-changing cell phone his company is developing.
Obviously, it’s a preposterous idea. Why spend so much money and effort on gorgeous ritzy apartments, plentiful fitted designer suits and sexy cool cars for Adam in a plan that can at best only fail and at worst backfire with terrible legal ramifications? This seems like a poor – not to mention probably easily traced – allocation of funds. And this plan involves murder? Well, I suppose that’s how you have to succeed in the high-stakes world of … the cell phone industry?
The plot is all quite silly and only proceeds to get more so as Adam gets deeper and deeper into Goddard’s company, which as it turns out, is not difficult at all. One quick meeting, and suddenly Adam’s got a corner office, in charge of a new GPS phone system for the military and becoming buddy-buddy with Goddard.
Then again, logic might be a bit much to expect from a movie where Adam and Wyatt play a game of chess (this might sound crazy, but I think it might be a metaphor for something) and the script drops equally trite gems like "Be careful what you wish for." When co-writers Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy try to come up with dialogue that’s not horribly hackneyed, the audience is left with mountains of nonsensical techno-babble and Ford half-heartedly preaching, "Power is the juice. Get used to drinking it."
For the first act or so, Luketic at least tries to give "Paranoia" a little zip to make it all digestible (aided by Junkie XL’s moody techno soundtrack). Midway through the movie, though, the tired clichés, dumb plot turns (the final twist is quite a doozy) and predictable character arcs become too much to overcome.
Adam, of course, gets in too deep, learning that crime does not pay and money corrupts. His loyal oddball friends (a greasy mullet-wearing Lucas Till plays his dorky best friend, Richard Dreyfuss plays his ailing but upbeat dad) are mistreated, put at risk and must be appealed to for forgiveness. In Dreyfuss’ case, forgiveness comes at a little league baseball game that the father-son duo attend for no discernable reason. Come on, "Paranoia." Think about the details a bit.
To add to the stockpile of clichés, Adam’s romantic relationship with Goddard’s smart, sexy marketing director Emma (Amber Heard) gets tested when his lies and deceit start to surface. "Blah blah, the way I feel about you is real." "Blah blah, I don’t know who you are anymore." Cue angry storm out of the house. Cue the audience yawning.
Sadly, the only entertaining part of the subplot is how the hacky writing turns Emma from a strong, confident woman into a sobby mess, tearfully listening to voicemails from Adam while curled up in a ball by the phone.
But what about the surely winning combination of Oldman and Ford, you ask? What about it? The former does his usual amusingly hammy B-movie shtick, but it’s not as much about Oldman battling his miscast sparring partner (first choice Kevin Spacey would’ve likely brought across the hint of calculated menace the role needs) as it is about Ford battling his own blatant disinterest in the film.
Even Ford’s costuming seems to signify "I’m bored," such as during a fancy Hamptons lunch party where, amongst slick suits and pretty dresses, he rocks a t-shirt and jeans. It may have been the costume designer’s choice, but considering the rest of the Ford’s performance, it’s hard to shake the idea that maybe he just didn’t care enough to actually get into costume that day.
If it makes Mr. Ford feel any better, the audience shares his apathy toward "Paranoia." It’s a film seemingly destined to end up on TV, used as background noise while viewers do other, more mentally stimulating things. Like fiddle around on their laptops. Or nap.
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