Amber Heard, Angela Sarafyan, auteur theory, based on a book, cinema, Con Air, corporate intrigue, David Tattersall, Die Another Day, Embeth Davidtz, evil corporations, Film auteurs, film reviews, films, Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, industrial espionage, Jock Goddard, Josh Holloway, Junkie XL, Kevin Kilner, Killers, Legally Blonde, Liam Hemsworth, Lucas Till, Monster-in-Law, movie, Nicolas Wyatt, paranoia, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Luketic, spies, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, tech-thriller, technology, voice-over narration, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton
Ever gotten the faint idea that you’ve already heard or seen something even if you’re pretty sure you haven’t? Similar to deja vu, I’ll often get the nagging notion that I’ve already watched a particular film, even to the point where I’ll begin to “remember” scenes. I tend to have a very strange memory: it preserves some things in amber and tosses out quite a bit without hesitation. As such, I frequently find myself asking: have I already seen this before? It happened with John Hillcoat’s The Proposition (2005), a film which I ended up watching “for the first time” at least twice, if not three times: it’s a great film, don’t get me wrong, it just managed to pass unimpeded through the sieve of my mind on multiple occasions. As I watched Robert Luketic’s most recent film, Paranoia (2013), I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d already seen this before. Turns out I hadn’t but I had, in a way: I’d never seen this particular iteration of the formula before but I’ve seen plenty of soulless, created-by-committee, commercial product in my time. If there’s one thing that can be said about Paranoia, it’s that it features Harrison Ford…and he seems mostly awake, for a change.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a young, principled and ambitious go-getter gets tangled in the messy webs of corporate intrigue, leading him/her further down the rabbit hole as temptation, double-crosses and ulterior motives begin to fly fast and furious. Yeah, me too. It’s almost a tale as old as time…or at least as old as stories about the avarice and evil of the corporate world. Handsome, principled and ambitious young go-getter Adam (Liam Hemsworth) works at Wyatt Corp., doing the kind of vague tech stuff that everyone in tech-related films seem to do. He runs afoul of head ogre, Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman, shoveling scenery down his gullet as fast as it’ll go) when he can’t come with a cool, innovative new idea: “You have everything at your disposal and come up with social networking on a TV?” Be nice, Wyatt: the filmmakers had quite a bit at their disposal, too and yet: here we are.
Adam and his “quirky” friends, Kevin (Lucas Til) and Allison (Angela Sarafyan) get canned but Adam’s still got the company credit card: who wants to par-tay? $16K (and one drunken hook-up with a mysterious blonde, played by Amber Heard) later and Adam’s up shit-creek with Wyatt. Good ol’ Nicolas, of course, has something up his sleeve: he’s Gary Oldman, after all, and that dude is just untrustworthy. He wants Adam to infiltrate the tech company, Eikon, run by his former partner, and current bitter rival, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford). Adam is to insinuate himself in the group and steal the plans for Goddard’s newest “genius” invention, some sort of a spiffy new iPhone. When Adam balks, because he’s got principles and stuff, Wyatt reminds him of his position: “Are you a horse or a dog, Adam? Horses are motivated by fear, dogs by hunger.” Since Adam needs to pay $40K in medical bills for his ailing father (an utterly, absolutely, completely wasted Richard Dreyfuss), he doesn’t have a lot of choices: Cue up “Who Let the Dogs Out,” cuz Adam’s on the payroll.
After meeting with Goddard’s hiring agent, Tom Lungren (Kevin Kilner), Adam also gets to meet his assistant: if you guessed Amber Heard, reward yourself by tagging out of the film. His former bed-partner, Emma, is super suspicious of Adam but, then again, the film is called Paranoia…whatcha gonna do? Adam gets a job and ends up wowing Goddard with his ability to take other people’s ideas and repackage them: he’s the perfect corporate guy! As Adam gets deeper and deeper under cover, things begin to get more dangerous: Wyatt’s sinister right-hand man, Miles (Julian McMahon), is always lurking in the shadows, Goddard seems to be on to something and Emma is falling hard for Adam (who wouldn’t? Guy’s got abs for miles.). When FBI agent Gamble (Josh Holloway) enters the picture and lets Adam know that the feds have Wyatt in their cross-hairs and need Adam’s help to snare him, what’s a young, principled and ambitious go-getter to do? Many double-crosses and needlessly complex back-and-forth later, we find out.
Folks, unless this is one of the first films you’ve ever seen (which is entirely possible, what do I know?), there is absolutely, positively nothing here that you haven’t seen before, probably in much more interesting ways. The story is moldy and features so many gaping holes that I’m guessing they were on purpose: if you thought the “heroic” T-rex in Jurassic Park was a deus ex machina, wait until you get to the part in Paranoia where the whole success of Adam’s plan hinges on the fact that his cellphone won’t be fried after getting dunked in a pitcher of water. There’s no reason it should keep working but it has to, to further the plot, and so it does. The final doublecross is equally ludicrous, requiring so much suspension of disbelief that we’re pretty much in Space Jam land: I believed everything Bugs did in that movie way more than I believe anything that these idiots do in this film.
The acting is what it is: Hemsworth is handsome and bland; Oldman is both ridiculously over-the-top and strangely deflated, as if he were coming down from a week-long crack bender; Ford, as mentioned earlier, actually seems awake and aware, for a change. I’m not saying that anything in his performance will make people forget his iconic roles (or even forget the fact that, nowadays, he seems higher than Doug Benson whenever he makes public appearances) but he definitely seems aware and there’s a tiny (a minuscule, smaller-than-a-pinprick) bit of his old chutzpah here. Watching Paranoia strictly for Ford’s performance would be a fool’s errand, of course, but he’s definitely not the worst thing in the film.
Director Luketic is something of a middle-of-the-road, paint-by-numbers auteur, since he was also responsible for Legally Blonde (2001), Win a Date with Tad Hamilton (2004), Monster-in-Law (2005), 21 (2008), The Ugly Truth (2009) and Killers (2010). The one common thread in Luketic’s canon is his polished, bland style, so airbrushed that everything looks like it was poured from a mold. Veteran cinematographer David Tattersall handles the camera for this one: his previous films included the Star Wars prequels, Con Air (1997), Die Another Day (2002), XXX: State of the Union (2005) and Speed Racer (2008). Tattersall specializes in big, glossy productions and Paranoia is no exception, albeit a much shallower one than even State of the Union. Paranoia is technically proficient, sure, but it’s also hollow.
Basically, you have a director and cinematographer that specialize in big, empty images; a cast that phones the whole thing in; copious slo-mo and pounding techno music (courtesy of Junkie XL) to show how badass the whole thing is; a vague, unsatisfying message about bringing down “the man” while lining your own pockets; and enough dumb coincidence to drive any other film into the ground. Even as a time-waster on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Paranoia comes up short. I can almost guarantee that this isn’t the worst film you’ll see this year: it can’t even make that commitment. Instead, Paranoia is just another lazy example of how truly artless modern action films can be. There’s nothing here to offend but there’s also not much to remember, either.