Paranoia: Film Review

Slick but muddled thriller about corporate espionage never gets our pulse pounding.

"Hunger Games" co-star Liam Hemsworth butts heads with tycoons Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford in this thriller set in the executive suites of the tech industry.

Thrillers about corporate intrigue run the risk of seeming rarefied and convoluted rather than suspenseful. That was the undoing of the high-profile Julia Roberts-Clive Owen starrer Duplicity a few years ago, and Paranoia might well suffer the same fate. The story of an ambitious young techie recruited to spy on his boss’s archrival never really generates the life-and-death tension that would keep audiences involved. Despite glossy production values, the film seems unlikely to stir major box-office sparks. 

Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) and a group of young pals are disappointed when their presentation of a new gizmo fails to impress their ruthless boss Nic Wyatt (Gary Oldman). After they are fired, Adam decides to have one last fling at Wyatt’s expense and takes his friends on a binge using his corporate credit card. Wyatt demands restitution, but he suggests that Adam can make amends by going to work for a fellow tycoon and stealing his secrets. Adam reluctantly agrees to the plan and joins the inner circle of Eikon Corp., run by Wyatt’s former partner Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford with a shaved head that makes him resemble Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos). Adam soon finds himself caught in the middle of a lifelong feud between the two tycoons, and he begins to feel his life is in danger. Things get even more complicated when the FBI comes calling and tries to enlist Adam to help with its investigation of the corporate giants’ shady business practices.

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The script by Jason Hall and Barry L. Levy, based on a novel by Joseph Finder, starts off with a lot of credibility problems. Adam lands a top position at Goddard’s company with remarkable ease, considering that his track record has been less than stellar. His rise is so swift that it isn’t hard to guess that Goddard has ulterior motives of his own. Of course, Adam is being used by both billionaires, so there isn’t much narrative surprise. It’s clear that everyone is duplicitous, but it isn’t always clear how their plotting proceeds with so few glitches. The writers try to heighten the stakes when one of Adam’s friends is run over in traffic, but the film never develops a true sense of jeopardy.

It also doesn’t help that there really isn’t anyone to root for in this game of cat-and-mouse. The easily manipulated, fiercely ambitious Adam isn’t the most likable protagonist, and a few shots of him placing a blanket over his ailing father (Richard Dreyfuss) are all-too-blatant attempts to win sympathy for a fairly soulless social climber. Both Stoddard and Wyatt are coldhearted sharks, and Adam’s love interest, a snooty Ivy League-educated executive (Amber Heard), isn’t endearing either.

Hemsworth’s performance isn’t strong enough to put us on his side. The Hunger Games co-star certainly cuts a dashing figure, and his frequent shirtless scenes will please his fans, but he never fully engages our sympathy. Oldman and Ford do relish their turns at corporate villainy, and Embeth Davidtz as Oldman’s steely associate brings considerable flair to her role. 

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Director Robert Luketic hasn’t been able to sustain the promise he showed in his two early movies, Legally Blonde and 21. His recent movies increasingly have grown bland and formulaic. Technical credits, however, are strong. The sleek environs of corporate offices and billionaire mansions are well caught by cinematographer David Tattersall and production designers David Brisbin and Missy Stewart. But the intrigue in high places never really has us on the edge of our seats, and the formulaic happy ending -- fortified by some desperate voice-over narration provided to fill the holes in the plot -- undermines the entire exercise. The filmmakers may have hoped to make a timely commentary on the amorality in our executive suites, but they end up merely restating the obvious. Maybe the whole thing would have played better as a corporate comedy, the kind that Doris Day and Rock Hudson made some 50 years ago.


Opens: Friday, Aug. 16 (Relativity Media)

Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Amber Heard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Lucas Till, Embeth Davidtz, Julian McMahon, Josh Holloway

Director: Robert Luketic

Screenwriters: Jason Hall, Barry L. Levy

Based on the novel by: Joseph Finder

Producers: Alexandra Milchan, Scott Lambert, William D. Johnson, Deepak Nayar

Executive producers: Stuart Ford, Sam Englebardt, Sidonie Dumas, Christophe Riandee, Allen Liu, William S. Beasley, David Greathouse, Douglas Urbanski, Ryan Kavanaugh, Tucker Tooley

Director of photography: David Tattersall

Production designers: David Brisbin, Missy Stewart

Music: Junkie XL

Costume designer: Luca Mosca

Editor: Dany Cooper

PG-13 rating, 106 minutes.