Those two little words repeatedly ran through my mind while watching Robert Luketic’s “Paranoia,” wondering if the movie would ever get better.
Spoiler alert: it did not.
I should have figured as much from the opening montage: pointless flash-forwards, useless panoramic shots of New York City, and a voiceover from Liam Hemsworth spouting rebellious teenager clichés (“be careful what you wish for,” “good grades don’t get you into a good college,” etc).
Believe it or not, from there things only get worse. Gaping plot holes and awkward performances lead not to paranoia, but boredom.
After that bizarre opening sequence, we meet Adam Cassidy (Hemsworth), an aspiring inventor who pays the bills with an entry-level job at a successful cell phone company. But that’s all about to change, because Adam and his team of misfit inventors have an opportunity to pitch a revolutionary new phone to their company’s CEO, Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman).
Unfortunately, Wyatt is less than enthused, so Adam insults him. When he and his whole team are fired, Adam responds like any responsible adult: using the company’s credit card to buy $16,000 worth of booze at a club.
Wait, that’s not a mature reaction? Someone probably should have told co-writers Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy, because when Wyatt finds out about Adam’s rebellion, he hires him back, sensing that this rebel “wants more out of life.” Why else would he spend the money on alcohol rather than his father’s (Richard Dreyfuss) medical bills?
If you’re the least bit concerned about the credibility of this plot at this point, don’t worry. It gets worse.
In his new position, Adam needs to get hired by Wyatt’s competitor Jock Goddard (a very bald Harrison Ford) in order to steal a valuable cell phone prototype. Never mind the danger and complete improbability of the task. Never mind the FBI agent who shows up at Adam’s house to convince him to get out of the job. Adam is too determined to complete it, and by “complete” I mean “put the money he’s being paid before his own well-being.”
The suspense, or lack thereof, certainly doesn’t justify “Paranoia” being billed as a thriller, and the characters, well, just don’t seem all that paranoid. If the production team wanted a title that properly captured the essence of the film, they probably should have gone with “Bad Career Choices: The Movie.”
The film’s attempt at romance – Adam’s relationship with Goddard’s director of marketing, Emma (Amber Heard) – is about as predictable as they come. Boy meets girl and begs for a date; girl falls for boy; girl discovers boy’s lies and packs her bags. It doesn’t give much opportunity for real acting; Heard’s only solo scene involves her crying over Adam and listening to his voicemails.
Not much more can be said for the rest of cast, either. The CEOs’ rivalry isn’t nearly as dramatic as the movie wants it to be, since neither Ford nor Oldman really fit the part of menacing competitors. Their “big” confrontation is a stare-down that is, more than anything, just plain awkward. As for Hemsworth, half of his screen time involves him swimming or walking around shirtless, as if his body could make up for his sub-par acting.
“Paranoia” aspires to be an unflinching look at high-stakes corporate competitiveness and the havoc it wreaks on those within it, a suspenseful thriller that leaves audiences gasping with each plot twist.
It just left me saying, “Oh dear.”
* ½ out of five