“Paranoia,” based on a novel by Joseph Finder, resembles the template for early John Grisham films or for Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” stories in which the young hungry guy who wants to make a name for himself falls under the scrutiny of an older mentor figure who then tempts them down the path of wrongdoing, ultimately leading to a moral crisis for the lead. As directed by Robert Luketic, “Paranoia” is professional in every way, but there’s no pulse to it. It is entirely adequate, livened up only by a few supporting turns.
Part of the problem is Liam Hemsworth, who seems like a charming enough guy, but who doesn’t really have any onscreen energy. It doesn’t help that he’s caught between two CEOs locked in a pissing match that’s gone on for years, or that those two CEOs are played by Gary Oldman, who savors every bite of the scenery that he takes, and Harrison Ford, who manages to suggest a real inner life for his character with very limited screen time. There’s one great scene in the movie where Oldman and Ford come face to face and they play this subtle, funny, furious game of “Which One Of Us Is The Alpha Male?” that leaves poor Hemsworth stranded, standing there between them and completely out of his weight class.
In his scenes with Amber Heard, who plays a rising executive at the firm where Adam (Hemsworth) goes to work, Hemsworth seems like he’s on more solid ground, and he’s good at playing the lighter stuff. When it’s time to dig a little deeper, Heard seems up for it, but Hemsworth struggles. In fact, the best scenes he has in the whole film come with the guy playing his father, Richard Dreyfuss, and even there, it feels like Dreyfuss is the reason the scenes play.
The particular moral landscape that Adam is trying to navigate is the world of big-stakes consumer technology. Basically, it’s “The Firm” meets “The Social Network” as Nicolas Wyatt (Oldman) and Jock Goddard (Ford) each race to release new phones. Wyatt hires Adam to infiltrate Jock’s company and bring them the specs for the secret new project that Jock is preparing to bring to the market. And while Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy do their best to portray this as a dangerous world of big money in their script, it all plays a little silly onscreen. Wyatt keeps a icy but brilliant psychologist (Embeth Davidtz) on his staff, as well as a ruthless all-purpose fixer who seems to do everything from high tech spying to cold blooded murder, a role that allows Julian McMahon to turn the creepy up, resulting in something that is borderline hilarious at times.
Not only do I not believe the details of the world that Adam navigates, but I don’t believe the moral crisis that the film tries to establish. It’s such a shoddy framework that they hang all of this on that I never really felt like there was any peril or even any fun. It’s all very perfunctory and single-minded, and because there is no life to these characters past the scenes where they appear, it never really feels like there’s any life to it all. It just plays like a checklist of things that should happen in this genre, without any anchor that might make any of it matter.
“Paranoia” is not an aggressively bad film, but it is a bland film, and there’s not much about it that will stick with me. I feel like they would have been better served by dropping the Hemsworth character completely and just focusing on the back and forth battle between Oldman and Ford. It might have been just as silly, but at least it would have been entertaining.
“Paranoia” opens tomorrow.