Big Brother — the Orwellian type, not the reality TV program — casts his long shadow over the corporate-espionage thriller “Paranoia.” Using the smart-tech devices clutched in the hands of every millennial, the omnipresent being reads e-mails, listens to conversations, and spies on our loved ones as they relax at home, blissfully unaware they’re being observed.
Knowing how methodical Big Brother tends to be, he is probably even watching this movie, desperately wishing a better one could be beamed across the screen.
“There’s nothing original left,” serpentine tech executive Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) tells his handsome protege, Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth), near the start of director Robert Luketic’s thriller. “We’re all stealing from someone.”
He’s right. In the case of “Paranoia,” screenwriters Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy swipe plot twists from the film adaptations of best-selling author John Grisham’s novels. Only back in the day, kinetic legal-brief thrillers like “The Firm,” “The Pelican Brief” and “The Rainmaker” helped further the careers of Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon, respectively. “Paranoia” peddles Hemsworth, a chiseled hunk who doesn’t offer the audience much beyond his good looks.
Hemsworth plays Cassidy, a blue-collar whiz kid from Brooklyn who dreams of climbing the ranks at Wyatt Corp., a tech giant led by a ruthless chief executive (played by Oldman with his usual brand of live-wire menace). When Cassidy pitches what he believes will be our country’s next great mobile toy, Wyatt distracts him with a riskier offer: Take a job at rival corporation Eikon; befriend Wyatt’s nemesis, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford, quietly effective); and swipe a blueprint for Eikon’s latest cellphone before it can reach store shelves.
As Cassidy sinks deeper into the criminal quicksand separating Wyatt and Goddard, it’s hard not to realize that “Paranoia” boils down to two corrupt billionaires feuding over their share of a saturated market. The FBI threatens to intervene, but we spend most of the film wondering which mogul will successfully manipulate this impressionable corporate spy. Tell me again why we’re supposed to care?
Oh, sure, Luketic occasionally reminds us that Cassidy has a sick father (Richard Dreyfuss, making the most of what little he’s given) and a stack of medical bills waiting at home. But even that potentially dramatic subplot is shelved for long stretches so Cassidy can romance Emma Jennings (Amber Heard), a pretty marketing executive who turns up at the most coincidental moments.
“Paranoia” succumbs to formula. There’s tension to be wrung from the premise, but Luketic is content to telegraph his movie’s juiciest twists, concentrating instead on applying a sleek visual sheen usually reserved for shampoo commercials.
“Paranoia” ultimately addresses the chasm separating the underemployed, underprivileged Generation Y from the experienced, often deceitful white-collar executives who damaged our nation’s financial landscape and made the current job market so unstable.
At the same time, the movie also illuminates the gulf separating the up-and-coming class of not-ready-for-prime-time film stars and the seasoned veterans now filling supporting roles. Watching Hemsworth wilt alongside his commanding co-stars, I couldn’t help but think that some day soon, the Fords, Oldmans and Dreyfusses of this world are going to attempt to pass the baton to a generation that isn’t prepared. And that harsh truth has to make some studio executives paranoid.
O’Connell is a freelance writer.
(106 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for some sexuality, violence and language.