The opening sequence in “Paranoia” is promising: the hero (Liam Hemsworth as Adam Cassidy) running down an alley. That’s about as much action, tension and “paranoia” as you’re going to get in this film, so enjoy it There are interminable scenes of computer uploads. Technological babble fouls the air at every turn. You can almost feel time passing, never to return. (That’s an hour and 40 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.)
The plot of “Paranoia,” (based on the excellent Joseph Finder novel), has Hemsworth (Adam Cassidy), blackmailed by the villainous Gary Oldman (Nicholas Wyatt) into spying on his former business partner Harrison Ford (Jock Goddard) and stealing his arch enemy’s plans for a revolutionary new electronic device. It’s all about the world of high-tech big corporations and espionage—spying at the highest levels of power.
WHERE’s WALDO? Or WHERE’S/WHO’S THE HERO?It’s hard to root for anybody in this film. All three leads do pretty reprehensible things. Hemsworth isn’t 100% admirable, and Oldman and Ford are involved in a longstanding blood feud, with each trying to one-up or buy out the other. The script’s articulated wisdom: “Everybody steals. Everybody lies. There’s no right or wrong. There’s just winning or losing.”
Why is “Paranoia,” the new movie based on Joseph Finder’s excellent plot so lifeless? There are long sequences that plod along as though expert EMTs are working hard to resuscitate the victim. Finally, the frustrated EMTs shake their heads and pull the sheet over the deceased’s face, acknowledging that this one didn’t make it. Dead-on-arrival.
Scene to illustrate: Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) tries to use a bogus latex fingerprint to gain access to the 38th floor’s top-secret vault in order to steal the heavily-guarded prototype. He tries to enter with the fingerprint identification gadget three times.
I hoped Liam would quit after one try. I was rooting for him to go home, take off his shirt, go for another dip in the pool, and then aimlessly walk around in a towel some more. [I also doubt if any top-secret object is stored in a vault and displayed exactly this way; I saw the Secret Service drag “the Red Phone” into a restaurant during a presidential campaign in a plain black box, and THAT object could have started a nuclear war!]
THE SCRIPT VERSUS THE ACTINGWhy didn’t the adaptation by screenwriters Jason Dean Hall and Barry L. Levy work? The words must be there on the page in order for actors to deliver. And the author’s intent must hew as closely as possible to the ideas expressed in the plot. For the most part, in this script, the great lines (and thoughts) are MIA (missing in action). With actors the caliber of Richard Dreyfuss (Oscar winner for “The Goodbye Girl”), Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, not to mention handsome Australian actor Liam Hemsworth (brother of “Thor”, boyfriend in “The Hunger Games” and sometime fiancé of Miley Cyrus) and attractive female love interest Amber Heard, there is more than enough talent to deliver a tense thriller.
I can’t fault the acting (although others have), with but two exceptions: Josh Holloway’s FBI Agent Gamble was weak and Julian McMahon’s (“Nip/Tuck”) hired hitman Miles Meachum was laughable. The music was not my favorite film score, but the sets were appropriately high-tech (although Philadelphia represents midtown Manhattan at some points), the costuming was okay and there were some killer cars.
Liam Hemsworth’s acting has been most often singled out for criticism, with comparisons to the vapid blankness of Taylor Lautner or Keanu Reeves. I disagree. My problem with Hemsworth’s role involved the inordinate number of times he is required to appear sans clothing, in bed or elsewhere. He’s a hunky guy; no doubt about it. But does the plot really require him to stroll about in a towel or hit the pool that often, even if he IS eye candy?
One critic actually suggested that cutting Hemsworth totally out of the movie might have made for a better film, as we could enjoy the two old lions (Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman) battling it out onscreen as they last did in 1997’s “Air Force One.” This would gut Joseph Finder’s complicated plot. The point is that too much experienced talent is wasted. [My suggestion: read the book.]
GARY OLDMAN, HARRISON FORD & RICHARD DREYFUSS
Oldman and Ford don’t have that many good lines or much to do; therefore, they mainly chew the scenery. The acting from Dreyfuss is actually more engaging, especially in the touching scene when Hemsworth, sitting on the front stoop with the sick old guy (emphysema) who badly needs a haircut, insensitively says he doesn’t want to turn out like his old man. Dreyfuss’ face conveys the hurt he feels without any dialogue. Looking at Dreyfuss and Hemsworth, side by side, you feel that, in addition to a haircut, Dreyfuss needs a Maury Povich paternity test.
COMPUTER NERDS RULE
I’m also growing impatient with the trope in movies where gigantic corporations apparently employ only the dimmest programmers in the world. The big corporations never hire the best and brightest. Some nerdy outcast (Lucas Till playing Kevin, this time), using a computer he may have made out of a paper cup, string and tin foil, is WAAY smarter than anybody the big company employs. The plucky upstart (Lisbeth Salander, anyone?) outwits them all. [Oh, really? Then, why is Kevin unemployed and looking for work for most of the film?]
PLOT POINTS THAT FAIL
That plot point aside, many have pointed out that when an employee is terminated, his credit card from the company is immediately de-activated, which would play hell with a scene set in a New York City nightclub where a disgruntled Adam leads his team on a $16,000 drinking binge on the company’s dime. This party was a big change from the book, where Adam is doing a “good deed” in throwing a retirement party for Jonesie, a loading dock guy, so that this sub-set of workers, who never get to enjoy “the good life” at the top, can have a night to remember.
The book’s original motivations for young Adam (Hemsworth) were slightly more admirable. His actions were more in keeping with the necessary “good guy” image of a hero, rather than having Adam simply go rogue in a fit of pique. In the novel, Adam’s going off the reservation—while impulsive and certain to cause dire repercussions— seem generous and less criminal. In the movie, Adam’s actions just come off as wrong and petty.
But, of course, watching Adam’s “team” of handsome young people dancing and popping champagne corks was probably deemed cinematically superior to watching a bunch of old farts (Jonesie has a wife of 42 years, Esther) get down to a Jamaican reggae group, as per the book’s opening chapter. The trouble may have started with scripted changes like that, because Adam’s actions, although wrong in either case, now paint him in an entirely different light as a spoiled brat angry that the Big Boss (Gary Oldman) didn’t like or carefully listen to his sales pitch. He’s a small child petulantly giving the finger to the boss and saying, “I’ll show you!” not the good guy throwing a nice going-away party for a deserving retiree.
THE O.J. FACTOR
For me, the film fails to deliver, in part, because of the O.J. Factor. The O.J. Factor defined: Remember when the prosecution introduced massive amounts of DNA evidence in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, causing the jury to zone out? After so many monologues or dialogues about computer chips (blah, blah, blah), the audience’s eyes begin to glaze and we lose interest. [This is especially true if you can’t even add a new number to your fancy cell phone, but even tech savvy youngsters, especially those who are pining for a car crash per second, will find the droning on about technology a bit much].
Never has technology and industrial espionage seemed so dull. Films like Tom Cruise’s 2002 “The Minority Report” illustrate crisper, more interesting ways to illustrate the wonders of technology. When one company ruthlessly murders programmers, the audience gets to see none of that exciting stuff. We get a quick peek at a black-and-white photo of a corpse with a sheet over the body. (And this particular character actually had a small speaking part earlier!) Why not show us some of THAT action (i.e., how the poor sap met his end) rather than miring us in miasma?
DIRECTOR ROBERT LUKETIC
Is the director the problem? The film is directed by Robert Luketic. Luketic’s best previous film was “Legally Blonde,” a Reese Witherspoon vehicle. He also directed “Monster-in-Law.” One critic wondered what the film might have been like if director Brian DePalma had been hired to build the tension that doesn’t seem to exist—even in what are supposed to be thrilling moments. There were opportunities, but they were not seized. As you sit in the theater, it feels as though you are caught in a time warp. The film is often static, with little conflict beyond Oldman’s ranting in a thick British accent about hotter water for his tea. The onscreen chemistry between Hemsworth and Heard is non-existent. Hardly riveting stuff.
The revelation of the NSA wiretapping and data gathering of innocent civilians, as well as the sub-plot involving expensive health care in the U.S. and how it is unaffordable to the average American (especially young >Americans) should have been home runs for the screenwriters to integrate into the script. Lord knows, they tried, using Frank Cassidy’s (Richard Dreyfuss’) emphysema as the entrée to the health care/excessive cost debate.
The film has been a work-in-progress for some time; the recent and still-ongoing NSA flap should have been as timely as the meltdown at Three Mile Island was for “The China Syndrome” in 1979. Alas, even this helpful confluence of fact and fiction did not resonate.
Amber Heard’s character says, at one point, “The expectation is so high that I can’t ever really succeed.” For me, (having read Joseph Finder’s ingeniously plotted and well-written novel), I was disappointed that this movie didn’t succeed, despite heroic and expensive efforts to infuse life into “Paranoia.” Past the opening sequence, the film is on life support. Somebody or something either tripped over or pulled the plug.