There’s nothing wrong with Paranoia that a screenplay couldn’t have fixed. Robert Luketic’s impotent ode to stodgy office thrillers and a young, disenfranchised generation with no personality whatsoever plays like a series of note cards assembled in a somewhat logical order. If ever there was an effective counterargument to Blake Snyder’s “How To” screenwriting tome Save the Cat it is most certainly Paranoia, which proves that adherence to structure means nothing unless there’s actually a reason to give a damn.
Liam Hemsworth squints his way through the role of Adam, a kid from the other side of the bridge and/or tunnel who wants to get ahead at Wyatt Mobile, a cell phone company ruled by a disinterested Gary Oldman. When Adam commits credit card fraud because “screw it, I guess the movie had to begin somehow,” Wyatt blackmails him into a corporate espionage gig, spying on the CEO’s former partner-turned-bitter-rival Jock Goddard, played by Harrison Ford with a shaved head, thick-rimmed glasses and gruff snarl that makes him look and sound for all the world like a badass Bob Balaban.
What follows is a predictable series of twists and turns that feel culled from the Thriller Movie Handbook™. Adam falls for a pretty and personality-free co-worker at Goddard’s company played by Amber Heard. He feels guilty about deceiving her but does it anyway and she doesn’t care at the end of the movie because in movies nobody has a problem with building a relationship on a foundation of lies. Adam also falls for Goddard himself, more or less, ostensibly because he seems like a good man but mostly because the plot demanded Adam feel conflicted about something once in a while because otherwise Paranoia is nothing but a parade of upset men wearing pretty suits. Or less.
All of this ties together with dialogue that sounds like placeholder text someone forgot to rewrite before production began, referring to vague concepts like insurance, pitches, technologies and immature twentysomething philosophies that Paranoia expects you to take seriously, even though the filmmakers didn’t follow suit. Little details – like a 2.72 gigabyte file transfer that takes 20 seconds on an off-the-rack MacBook Pro – make Paranoia feel like the product of filmmakers who have never used a computer before, and big details – like a high tech security system that scans a digital readout of your thumb print instead of your actual thumbprint, making it bafflingly easy to circumvent – make Paranoia feel insultingly underdeveloped.
At one point Adam learns that Wyatt has his father’s house bugged, but then he reacts in horror when he discovers several scenes later that Wyatt also bugged the apartment that Wyatt gave to him, fully furnished. Because installing cameras in his father’s house is one thing, but installing cameras in an apartment that the bad guy actually owns is somehow unfathomable to him. It’s hard to care about characters this stupid.
But even that would have been okay, and maybe even entertainingly goofy, if Paranoia had actually followed through on any of its dramatic motivations. Julian McMahon plays Wyatt’s (only) thug, who constantly threatens physical violence but never goes through with it. At most Wyatt has one of Adam’s friends hit by a car but then the guy is completely fine except for a broken leg that he shrugs off anyway.
Adam agrees to Wyatt’s schemes in order to pay for his father’s emphysema treatments, but his dad (played, inexplicably, by a very good Richard Dreyfuss) never deteriorates enough to sell the plot point. Paranoia plays like the idea for a movie, not a movie itself, and never once commits to the kind of drama – even clichéd drama – that would make an audience give a hoot about what’s happening on-screen.
Paranoia concludes the way every thriller must: with a hidden wire, treated like it’s a brilliant twisteroo. But there’s nothing even remotely clever about this rote, dispassionate checklist of a movie. Everyone below the line did their jobs – Paranoia looks pretty as hell, that’s for sure – but nobody above it bothered to put them to work for any worthwhile purpose.
It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. I guess it’s also not Paranoia if it’s even remotely a good movie. This film makes Antitrust look like Wall Street.