PARANOIA is a flabby congealed thing that is in no way helped by lackluster direction and a derivative script. The hook is industrial espionage in the high-stakes, and even higher-egos, of hi-tech. Based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Finder, it is a morality tale with no sting, and a thriller with no edge.
Liam Hemsworth is Adam Cassidy, a tech whiz with big dreams of impressing his boss, Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) with his new networking idea. Alas, Adam can barely get Wyatt’s attention away from his tepid cup of tea, and after a few impetuous remarks, finds himself, and his development team, unemployed with no prospects. In the next of several stupid decisions, Adam takes said team out for a night of expensive clubbing on the company credit card. Two things happen. He gets lucky with a posh woman (Amber Heard) who refuses to tell him her name the next morning as she’s throwing him out of her apartment. Then he gets nabbed by Wyatt’s enforcer (Julian McMahon as the incarnation of pure evil), and called on the premium carpet for his misuse of company funds. Wyatt offers him a deal. Spy on Wyatt’s old mentor, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford playing Steve Jobs), get the scoop on their latest invention, and not only will Adam not go to prison, he will be a wealthy man with the funds to more than cover his fathers medical bills. As the sole support of said father (an irascible Richard Dreyfuss), the choice is simple. Even for Adam.
Here’s the thing. Though we are told at every turn how very smart and ambitious Adam is, his story is one of poor decisions, stupid moves, and really, really beautiful lighting accessories. He does everything the hard way, which is to say in the way most likely to get him caught, fails to figure out details that a 12-year-old of average intelligence would not only see, but also anticipate, and he otherwise gets through the tangled plot with nothing more than dumb luck. There is also his undeniable attractiveness, which Wyatt’s resident expert in human behavior (Embeth Davitz) would explain to us always opens doors that the average-looking person would have to make an effort to get through. That the powers that be have put Hemsworth beneath the only haircut in the universe (known and unknown) that makes him look almost dorky is a mystery that is never solved during the running time of the film.
As for the lighting accessories, they are the best thing in the film. A panoply of taste, style, and function found nowhere else, from the Wedgewood table lamps, to the cascade of stylized falling leaves that constitute the column of a floor lamp, to the Frank Lloyd Wright reproduction, they are dazzling. If as much thought had been put into cobbling together a script that was neither condescending nor silly, we might have been onto something wonderful here. Certainly, Hemsworth has the icy blue eyes of a leading man, if not the thespian skills that necessarily go with that designation. And both Ford and Oldman know how to chew scenery when necessary, and resonate with an almost tactile low rumble of character the rest of the time.
It all wraps up far too glibly, and with so little steam driving it that the response is more ho-hum than huzzah.