Director Robert Luketic’s thriller “Paranoia” has a host of problems, but the biggest seems to be that no one in it is nearly paranoid enough. This is a film in which titans of industry discuss nefarious world takeover schemes with the discretion of Bond villains, tech whizzes work on top-secret military projects in the middle of dive bars, and corporate henchmen chase targets through crowded restaurants with guns drawn to deliver messages most people would send via text. Indifferently made and nearly tension-free, this Liam Hemsworth starrer should generate moderate opening weekend B.O.; after that, it would be well advised to look over its shoulder.
Inhabiting a strange simulacrum of modern-day New York where Brooklyn is still unfashionable, Silicon Valley companies are headquartered in Lower Manhattan and nightclub doormen profess a “no hipsters” entrance policy, Hemsworth’s oft-shirtless protagonist, Adam Cassidy, is an entry-level programmer at a multinational tech company, supporting his sick live-in father (Richard Dreyfuss) out in the boroughs.
Given the chance to make a product proposal for the company’s oleaginous CEO, Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman), Adam whiffs his pitch, and his subsequent mouthing off to the board gets him and his whole team fired. Unruffled by the setback, Adam convinces his fellow pink-slippees to go out drinking with their curiously uncanceled corporate credit cards, and the gang goes to town with Ciroq bottle service in a trendy club.
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Deciding that a frattish, disgruntled former employee with a taste for Diddy’s signature vodka is precisely the person in whom to entrust an illegal corporate espionage project, Wyatt recalls Adam to the company the next morning, enlisting him to spy on rival tech giant Eikon (pronounced “Icahn”), run by Wyatt’s former mentor, the Steve Jobs-like Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford).
Quickly rising through the Eikon ranks, Adam is teamed with the company’s marketing head, Emma (Amber Heard), a driven Ivy Leaguer determined to succeed in a man’s world — that’s literally how she’s introduced at parties — with whom Adam previously enjoyed a one-night stand. As Adam works his way deeper into Goddard’s inner-circle and Emma’s bedroom, he navigates a few mild double-crosses (every single one of them telegraphed by the film’s trailer) and begins to wonder if his very personal safety might be in jeopardy — his first clue coming around the 45-minute mark, when an FBI agent shows him autopsy photos of three recent Wyatt-commissioned corporate spies who, like Spinal Tap drummers, all seemed to perish in mysterious circumstances.
Romantic-comedy veteran Luketic, working from a script adapted from Joseph Finder’s novel, clearly has no illusions that he’s making “The Conversation” (or even “Duplicity”), and there’s nothing wrong with tuning one’s brain down to a lower frequency for a fun, old-fashioned thriller. Yet even the most by-the-numbers suspense tropes somehow slip through this film’s fingers. A particularly boilerplate scene in which Adam attempts to download intel from Emma’s computer while she’s in the shower frantically cuts between the slowly creeping download bar, Adam’s darting eyes, and Emma gradually emerging from the bathroom … only to abruptly cut to the two peacefully back in bed with no explanation.
As bad as the attempts at tension may fare, “Paranoia” is even worse when it attempts to smarten up. An early sequence in which Wyatt’s corporate fixer (Embeth Davidtz) is tasked with instructing Adam on the shadow-play rituals of executive culture seems ripe for satire, yet even after his big Pygmalion makeover, Adam’s grasp on corporate lingo still amounts to lines like “They made me an offer … a big-ass offer!”
Hemsworth and Heard are both extremely beautiful, and would be ideal models for Abercrombie & Fitch’s business casual collection, yet neither suggests more than a glimmer of personality beneath their chiseled exteriors here. As for the overqualified veterans on call, Ford looks tired, Dreyfuss is sprightly, and Oldman seems content to amuse himself with an accent modeled on the Geiko gecko. At least bit players Lucas Till and Angela Sarafyan manage to sneak in some likable moments playing Shaggy and Velma to Hemsworth’s Fred.
The film’s technical attributes are all suitably professional, though Luketic betrays a weakness for gimmicky time-lapse, fast-forward and stuttered-frame footage that makes little contextual sense. A mostly electronic score from Junkie XL is occasionally quite irritating, using cell-phone chirrups as recurring motifs and cuing up doom-laden swells to accompany Hemsworth doing nothing more exciting than opening the curtains.