Of the plethora of things wrong with the terrible techno-thriller Paranoia, the somewhat inappropriate title might be the least of them. The actual concept of being afraid someone is constantly watching you certainly comes up several times, but no one actually seems like they could be bothered to care. I can only assume Robert Luketic’s Paranoia was so titled because people had already laid claim to the titles “Patently Implausible on This or Any Other Earth,” “Captain Obvious,” and “Seriously, Guys, Is This Some Sort of Joke?” Worst of all, it’s barely even enjoyable to make fun of. It’s a film so unfathomably ludicrous that I have an impossible time believing that anyone involved at any point ever took a serious look at the material and said “Yeah, I think that would work.” The magicians from Now You See Me couldn’t make heads or tails of this stuff.
Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) gets fired from his job at a tech giant cell phone manufacturer by his tyrannical boss Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) following a pitch that doesn’t go well. Pissed off, Adam blows the remainder of his equally fired team’s expense account on expensive booze to the tune of $16,000. Instead of calling the police or roughing Adam up, Wyatt blackmails Adam into going undercover as a new employee at the rival company poised to buy out Wyatt’s empire. Run by Wyatt’s former mentor Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford), their company seems destined for a breakthrough and it’s up to Adam to find out what the deal is from the inside. However, Adam begins to like Goddard more than Wyatt, and his conflicting feelings begin to threaten and endanger the lives of his best friend (played by Lucas Till, who in the movie is clearly referred to as Kevin and as the best friend, but on IMDB is named Aaron Cassidy, suggesting they were brothers in one unseen or reshot cut of this film), the head of marketing that he’s sleeping with (Amber Heard), and his cancer ridden father (Richard Dreyfuss).
It doesn’t matter how stacked that cast looks on paper. This is a stupid movie about stupid people doing incredibly stupid things in the stupidest possible ways. Cobbled together out of seemingly random nonsense that the creators of The Net, Chain Reaction, The Lawnmower Man, Hackers, and Antitrust would collectively scoff at, it’s a thriller about invasive high tech dohickies that can’t even figure out how simple cell phones or file transfers seem to work. It’s a film so ridiculously convoluted in its view of modern technology that instead of having a fingerprint scanner open a door, you have to scan your fingerprint on a cell phone that you then put in front of something else that will scan your fingerprint off the phone. It’s also apparently still easily fooled by someone lifting another person’s fingerprints off a conveniently placed item.
The entire set-up is so incredibly stupid and worthless that it’s impossible to believe that Wyatt – who I will again remind you is played by Gary fucking Oldman – could actually breathe on his own, let alone run a company. First of all, Adam is clearly an idiot. The pitch that he spent several months working on is for a product that already exists in reality, but apparently not in this film’s universe. Then he steals a bunch of his money. So Wyatt essentially uses the dumbest person in his company that he just fired to handle undercover work. Even Adam’s second big idea comes after watching TV for only about ten seconds, and the film just goes along with it because it sets up a necessary plot device for the final act. (Kind of, it still has no clue what he even created in the first place.) What makes it even more laughable is when Wyatt flat out admits that the thing he wants Adam to steal is completely 100% and unequivocally useless to him. He just “wants to see his vision.” It renders the entire film even more useless than it already was only an hour into the film.
Luketic (Killers, 21, The Ugly Truth, Monster In Law, and Legally Blonde, which I am now fully considering a fluke) directs incomprehensibly, but that might not be entirely his fault since this movie bears the obvious scars of massive reshoots and retooling that probably only made things worse. (An FBI agent shows up early on and looks to be a major role since he explains everything to Adam about his current situation, only to be replaced in the final reel by Josh Holloway playing a fed who has seemingly known Adam the whole time despite us never having once seen him in any other part of the film.) He makes sure to remind us how there are mirrors, computers, cameras, and cell phones that are tracking our every move, but he never once shows that he has any clue how any of these devices actually work. He seems to think that a curious desire to constantly find new ways to get Hemsworth shirtless (including a security guard who lecherously exclaims “I want his body scan sent to my office!”) will cover up the fact that he has positively no idea what he’s doing.
Not that casting the charisma free Hemsworth in the lead does Luketic any favours. Come to think of it, Adam is so stupid as written that the best actors of any generation would be hard pressed to figure out what to do with him. He’s such a petulant and whiny little brat that it’s impossible to root for him or even sympathize with his situation. As the film goes on, Adam just gets stupider and stupider until he just kind of lucks into Goddard being even stupider that he ends up winning. It was probably the first time I found myself actively rooting for someone to just put Adam out of his misery. It’s maddening that everyone else around him was just too stupid to do it.
I guess Ford and Oldman are okay. The only real joy in the film comes in a single scene around the midway point where the two former partners have a passive aggressive face off. They seem to forget there’s even a movie going on around them for a moment. It’s great for Oldman to even have that chance because despite getting to lay his accent on extra thick I can’t remember a film where he was actually outright bad aside from this one. I can’t tell if it’s the movie letting him down or at some point he just stopped caring, but I have to believe that at some point there was something about this film that made him want to get involved. Ditto Ford, who for what it’s worth, seems to be the only person trying or possibly even in on the joke and he’s knows he’s in a bad movie. Either way, Goddard ends up becoming the only character that could remotely be considered an actual human being.
The supporting cast gets just as wasted. Heard is only on hand to look good and give Adam depth merely by association to him. Dreyfuss doesn’t do anything. He’s never put in actual jeopardy, physically or psychologically, and he can barely be called upon to deliver sound advice. Embeth Davidtz shows up as a hilariously ill equipped and inept behavioural psychologist hired by Wyatt to act as Adam’s handler who couldn’t analyze a straight line between two points in front of her face. The only person who gets a chance to shine (again perhaps inadvertently) is Julian McMahon as Wyatt’s psychotic muscle man, hilariously named Meechum, who texts Adam for status updates like a stalking ex-girlfriend and somehow needs stitches over his eye after getting mildly slapped. Still, his performance borders on Nicolas Cage territory in terms of weirdness, making him the only possible valid reason for seeing the film in the first place.
There isn’t a cliché that writers Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy leave untouched and there’s always a way that Luketic can find a way to screw them up. There’s the “frantically searching the apartment for hidden cameras” scene. There’s the “running through a crowded kitchen in the middle of a foot chase” scene. The “knock a guy out in an elevator” shot. The “’You lied to me about everything.’ ‘No I didn’t, I didn’t lie about our love.’” scene. There’s the “shut down the security system for as long as this timer running in this briefcase will allow” scene. That last one is interesting because not only is it unceremoniously abandoned after approximately fifteen second, but also because it results in a chase where two security guards clearly go up and down the exact same escalator no less than three times in one foot pursuit where the person they chase goes nowhere near where the escalators would be. It gave me the biggest laugh in the whole movie because I began thinking about how many times Luketic made these poor guys run up and down these escalators to get not one but three different takes that he liked so much he had to use all of them.
It just keeps going on and on, edited eventually into complete incoherence. If I actually tried to explain the dynamics of the third act of Paranoia, you would think I was wasted. Writing about the experience of watching it has left me feeling pretty wasted. It’s the kind of movie where I wished it wasn’t a press screening, but an empty auditorium with two friends and some tall boys someone snuck in so I could keep turn to them and ask them if I was really seeing what I was seeing. Those are the only viewing conditions under which Paranoia could ever be remotely palatable for anyone with half a brain. Even then to avoid possibly getting banned from the theatre for drinking in public where it isn’t allowed, you should probably watch it at home. Actually, just spend the rental money on more drinks because it will kill the same amount of brain cells. Paranoia isn’t worth it. And if you don’t drink, not only do I applaud you, but you should probably just never watch Paranoia under any and all circumstances.