Film Review: Paranoia

In trying to play a tense, high-stakes game of corporate espionage and Mephistophelean seduction, this dull, junky thriller is all drift and no danger.

It’s not that the director of Legally Blonde, Robert Luketic, couldn’t direct a decent thriller. But the director also responsible for 21 and Monster-in-Law (which one was that, you say? The one you didn’t bother to see because it looked so horrendous, that’s what) most certainly cannot. This is particularly the case when he’s saddled with an empty-eyed lead like Liam Hemsworth and a techie plot that would have seemed cutting-edge right around the time that the World Wide Web was trying to kill Sandra Bullock in The Net. Seeing the likes of Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman skulking around the premises just adds insult to injury.

Early on, Hemsworth spends a few minutes trying to look smart as cocksure tech whiz Adam. He pitches a new idea to his company’s head, Nicolas Wyatt (Oldman), but crashes and burns, getting himself and his whole team fired. Then Wyatt comes back with an offer: Go infiltrate the offices of the competition—which is run by Wyatt’s old boss and current nemesis Jock Goddard (Ford)—steal their next big invention and we’ll make you rich. Either that, or we’ll claim embezzlement for all those drinks you charged for your co-workers on the company card.

So far, nothing too absurd in the world of Manhattan morality plays like Limitless or The Devil’s Advocate, where bright young things are brought to temptation and ruin by the riches of the world (sports cars, gleaming lofts, leather-chair private clubs, all on lavish display here). Certainly, Adam’s nerd-friends are all model-gorgeous behind their eyeglasses, and the character of his lovably irascible, blue-collar dad (Richard Dreyfuss, working overtime to act Brooklyn) is straight from the cliché box. But there are a few interesting things happening at first, from the scent of agitprop dissatisfaction that comes off Adam’s monologue about his generation’s chance at the American dream being robbed by corrupt executives, to Oldman’s jumped-up Cockney villainy.

But Paranoia goes nowhere fast, starting with the moment Adam is whisked off to some kind of corporate retreat where he is apparently deeply schooled in the ways of behavioral psychology. In no time at all, he’s become such a whiz at reading people that he scores a top executive position at Goddard’s company. This isn’t precisely easy to swallow, given how clueless Adam is about following people who practically have “Untrustworthy” tattooed on their forehead.

From there, it’s a steep downhill slide into tedium and cliché, sped along by Hemsworth’s near complete lack of charisma, which the film tries to compensate for by amping up the beefcake factor (lots of just-out-of-the-shower and sleeveless t-shirt moments) and stretching out every plot twist until it’s so obvious that small children and pets could follow along. In the end, about the only cliché left alone by the script is that the preppie snob Adam has the hots for (Amber Heard) actually doesn’t turn out to be Goddard’s daughter.