“There's nothing original left in the world. We're all stealing from someone,” sighs Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman, Bram Stoker's Dracula), a wealthy businessman contemplating the state of his empire. The line is inspired by the fact that Wyatt and his competitors are working on different versions of the same thing, but it seems to double as an apology (or at least a sheepish admission) to the audience: yes, we know you've seen this movie before, but just go with it, okay? Paranoia is hardly the first film to borrow liberally from other movies – as Wyatt suggests, the majority of films do that these days – but it's such a poor imitation of its assorted inspirations that the theft becomes unforgivable. It's a second-rate variation on Tony Scott's Enemy of the State, which was itself a second-rate variation on Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation.
The central figure of this tale is Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games), a young, handsome tech whiz who works for Wyatt's company. He and his friends have been developing some advanced software that they're very excited about, but Wyatt hears their pitch, rejects it and promptly fires them. Indulging his frustration, Adam decides to take give himself a farewell gift at his former employer's expense: he uses $16,000 from the company's discretionary fund to pay for a fun evening at a swanky nightclub. During this wild night, Adam meets the attractive Emma Jennings (Amber Heard, Drive Angry), who ends up inviting Adam to spend the night with her.
The next morning, things start going south. Emma kicks Adam out of her house, and indicates that she has no interest in seeing him again. Adam's father (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws) has accumulated some serious medical debts, and now Adam has no way to begin paying them off. Worst of all, Adam's discretionary fund theft is immediately noticed by Wyatt, who calls our foolish protagonist into his office and makes him a new job offer: Adam will serve as a corporate spy, infiltrating the ranks of Wyatt's chief rival Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford, Witness) and stealing his hi-tech design plans. If Adam declines, Wyatt will have him thrown in jail for theft. Naturally (albeit reluctantly), Adam accepts Wyatt's proposal and secures a position at Goddard's company (which, conveniently enough, is where Emma works). Alas, it isn't long before he finds himself trapped between the impatient Wyatt, the suspicious Goddard and the ever-looming FBI.
If this whole scenario is starting to sound a little contrived, believe me, that's just the beginning. Paranoia throws one unlikely coincidence after another onto the pile, but it does so in vain: the movie never generates any genuine drama or tension. Too much of the film is too fundamentally stupid, which is a particularly big problem when you're trying to convince a viewing audience that every major character in the movie is supposed to be extremely smart. Liam Hemsworth is very good at looking like Liam Hemsworth, but he doesn't even begin to project the sort of quiet intelligence the role demands. Late in the proceedings, he also proves incapable of acting genuinely paranoid (the director seems to have told him to look confused and keep his mouth open). Hemsworth never convinces us that his character is in any real danger, and the movie never convinces us of that, either.
One might reasonably hope that the presence of several veteran movie stars would help compensate for Hemsworth's utter lack of screen presence, but no: everyone involved appears to be cashing an easy paycheck. Oldman gets to use his natural accent for a change, but that's unfortunately the most memorable thing about his character. Ford mutters his way through a similarly underwritten role, occasionally generating something resembling genuine menace but mostly looking like he'd rather be playing video games or something. When Oldman and Ford appear onscreen together, it's hard not to wish that you were watching Air Force One instead – hardly a masterpiece, but certainly a movie featuring far more committed work from the two actors. Dreyfuss gets almost nothing to do, and Josh Holloway – an actor who deserves far better than his post-Lost career has given him – gets so little screen time that you might not notice he's even in this thing.
The film's love story is both conventional and surprisingly weird. It begins with a strangely familiar scene, in which Hemsworth wakes up in Heard's bed and can't remember a thing about what happened the night before. Quick question: how many of you have actually had this experience? Follow-up question: how many of you have actually had this experience without the involvement of date-rape drugs? In Hollywood's version of real life, a few drinks is more than enough to completely erase memories of a night with Amber Heard. Sure, okay. Hemsworth proceeds to spend the next half-hour or so begging for a second date, and Heard keeps firmly rejecting him until suddenly she eagerly takes him home again for a pop music-backed round of PG-13 lovemaking. As in so many other parts of the movie, it feels as if the filmmakers simply skipped two or three steps of the process in other to move things from point A to point D.
As you might expect, the third act is largely dominated by action scenes. This isn't an action movie, but hey, dumb movies of a certain budget size have audience expectations to meet. There's a pointless foot chase involving Adam and Julian McMahon (Fantastic Four), followed by a clumsily-directed heist sequence involving more chases, fistfights and firearms. The latter sequence is lit like a scene from Only God Forgives (with Hemsworth bathed in bright red light), but it's hardly enough to convince anyone that they're watching something genuinely artful. Sure, we're all stealing from someone, but Paranoia is less Danny Ocean and more the guy who throws a rock through a department store window.
Rating: ★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Year: 2014