Now available on DVD, “Paranoia” wants to be a high-tech suspense movie, but the execution never quite comes up to the concept. The target audience has to be the 18-34 year old demographic that everybody (evidently) seeks to aim for these days, yet two of the marquee names primarily appeal to folks of my generation. And though the hero/love interest has the face and abs to be an Abercrombie and Fitch model — and he’s Thor’s kid brother! — his acting chops do not suffice to carry the picture. Not even close.
Maybe it’s because young Liam Hemsworth finds himself pitted against Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman and, to a lesser extent, Richard Dreyfuss, that he comes off so lamely. Director Robert Luketic tries hard to cover up Hemsworth’s monotony with lots of hip music, flashy editing and lighting, and sets full of bright, shiny surfaces. The woman he takes a shine to (Amber Heard) has some good moments with him when they are at each other’s throats in the early going. But when, inevitably, they fall in love, the sparks and the interest die off.
The plot revolves around corporate thievery, which, I have to say, involves me considerably less than, say, the fate of civilization as we know it. Call me an old crock, but whether Company A or Company B comes out with the newest, most all-inclusive, smartest phone is a matter of truly passing interest. As the feuding heads of the two electronic giants, Harrison and Oldman have their moments, though they are on screen together only briefly. Caught between them is 27-year-old Adam Cassidy (Hemsworth), a lower-level tech worker who envies his obscenely wealthy bosses and their chauffeur-driven, club-lunch, mansion in the Hamptons existence.
Events conspire to force Adam to succumb to temptation, even though he knows the serpent he works for (Oldman) is just as unprincipled as the snake whose smart phone prototype he has to steal (Ford). Working from Joseph Finder’s novel, screenwriters Jason Hall and Barry Levy set up some slick traps for Adam: he plunges in, lured by the cool apartment, hot car, and cold cash dangled before him. Schooled in this sort of story — and educated by the headlines about greedy Wall Streeters being indicted every week — the audience knows the kid will come to grief, despite the warnings of his retired security guard dad (Dreyfuss).
But the screenplay, despite some transparent attempts in the early going, never makes us sympathize with, much less root for, Adam. He gets, then loses, then gets (surprise!) his dream girl (Heard), but even the forced happy ending to their romance doesn’t make us feel all warm and fuzzy. The script also has holes as large as the blackout areas for cell phones along the Mississippi River bluffs, the moviemakers hastening past explaining how Adam knows some crucial information. When the formulaic revelation that All Is Not What It Seems finally comes to pass, or when Justice Is Served, we don’t believe it or care.
“Paranoia” is rated “PG-13” for “some language, violence, and sensuality.” If you are an unprincipled striving wretch willing to toss over his blue-collar background, there might be a lesson here for you. For a far better version of this familiar morality tale, rent the DVD of 1987’s “Wall Street,” with its famous tagline “Greed is good,” and starring pre-meltdown Charlie Sheen, his father Martin, and Michael Douglas in the cognate roles and directed by Oliver Stone. It’s a better-made and — in the aftermath of the Great Recession bought on by unbridled greed — a scarier film, one that can induce real paranoia.