Perhaps Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman can only appear together in not-terribly-good films. Air Force One isn’t terribly good, and neither is Paranoia. Aside from a title that promises much but delivers nothing of the sort, the movie is blandly directed by Robert Luketic, a former-and-still-sometimes romcom guy who has inadvisedly attempted to make the leap to “serious-minded” fare with this and the reasonable-but-should-have-been-better 21. Roundly savaged by the critics and a resounding flop, I don’t think this is quite as bad as has been made out. Paranoia is not unwatchable, but it’s a dumb movie that would desperately like to be smart and about something. It’s also saddled with an unmagnetic performance from the Hemsworth boy who’s not Chris, Liam. So it’s left to Ford and Oldman to do the heavy lifting and attempt to keep down some really stodgy dialogue.
Perhaps Joseph Finder’s corporate espionage novel is a superior piece of work, or perhaps the near-decade between publishing and this adaptation rendered it passé. Screenplay writers Barry L Levy (Vantage Point) and Jason Dean Hall (the upcoming American Sniper; lets hope he does a better job than here) have made it all about smart phone technology, as Oldman’s CEO Nicholas Wyatt blackmails Hemsworth’s low level employee Adam Cassidy into infiltrating the corporation of Wyatt’s rival and former colleague Jock Goddard (Ford) and so steal the plans for a new phone. There’s potential here, and the makers have done their best to talk up the surveillance society and its deleterious effects; Goddard’s new tech promises to be the ultimate user device, one that will encourage zero privacy.
But Luketic directs the movie so listlessly it barely has a pulse. The suggestion of Cassidy under constant watch lack flair, and the logic of this monitoring capability are conviently forgotten when it suits the under-exerted plot. Shouldn’t Wyatt be holding all his conversations in his underpants in a fully debugged environment? If he’s really going around having people knocked off he ought to be much more careful about what he says to who and where (it’s no good having a scene where Wyatt warns about careless words in the presence of a new tailor if he’s showing such disregard the rest of the time). He installs cameras in Cassidy’s apartment and his dad’s house but doesn’t seem to have noticed the FBI calling for a chat with Cassidy.
This is also one of those movies where people are capable of doing magical things with technology; it might as well be an episode of Whiz Kids. Cassidy’s friends are able to come up with genius inventions at a moment’s notice, while Wyatt can facilitate Cassidy’s acceptance into his rival’s firm like it’s nothing (that Wyatt is not suspicious of how easy this is ought to ring alarm bells). If the corporate side had been convincingly portrayed, this might have ended up closer to the Wall Street vibe it’s clearly angling for; young wannabe with a blue collar dad (Richard Dreyfuss here, Martin Sheen there) is manipulated into misdeeds by a Satanic corporate type (Oldman here, Michael Douglas there) yet we just know he will do the right thing in the end (Cassidy even spouts indigestible guff like “I know right from wrong and I’m sorry it took me so long to act on it”).
If Hemsworth is vacant, love interest Amber Heard isn’t much better; I’ve seen her in any number of films but she’s so unmemorable I’m never sure if that’s her. Luketic is obviously under the illusion the pair will fascinate us, since he devotes a further 10 minutes to their relationship following the climax. Julian McMahon plays Wyatt’s heavy; it’s a thankless role, and you wonder why both he and Josh Holloway (as an FBI man; the actor just hasn’t had a decent break post-Lost). Embeth Davidtz fares a little better, but the only reason for watching this is Oldman and Ford.
Oldman uses his own accent, which makes for a nice change, particularly when he’s yelling “Put it in my fucking hand” like he’s Ray Winstone’s bezzie mate. Ford gets a lot of stick these days for sleepwalking through his roles, but he holds his own here and, with his curiously bald head, has a distinctive look to back up his steely business sense. On the technical side, an imaginative director could easily work with David Tattersall’s cinematography but the poor guy is stuck doing the most uninteresting things. There’s even a dreary love scene montage. The surveillance camera POV stuff feels like an afterthought rather than integral (Enemy of the State this is not). Junkie XL’s score isn’t all that either and the in-action is overlaid with some irritating dance anthems that only underline Luketic’s disposition towards lukewarm cheese.
Is Paranoia’s 4% rating on Rotten Tomatoes deserved? Well, it gives a disproportionate impression that it is one of the worst movies ever made. It’s just very average. Coming from a director who is so very average, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. It blows its opportunities for corporate intrigue, instead favouring clumsy plotting and execution. Still, Ford and Oldman keep the tepid brew just about tolerable.