Skip to main content

We’re all stealing from someone.

Paranoia
(2013)

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.


**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

He's a wild creature. We can't ask him to be anything else.

The Shape of Water (2017)
(SPOILERS) The faithful would have you believe it never went away, but it’s been a good decade since Guillermo del Toro’s mojo was in full effect, and his output since (or lack thereof: see the torturous wilderness years of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit), reflected through the prism of his peak work Pan’s Labyrinth, bears the hallmarks of a serious qualitative tumble. He put his name to stinker TV show The Strain, returned to movies with the soulless Pacific Rim and fashioned flashy but empty gothic romance Crimson Peak (together his weakest pictures, and I’m not forgetting Mimic). The Shape of Water only seems to underline what everyone has been saying for years, albeit previously confined to his Spanish language pictures: that the smaller and more personal they are, the better. If his latest is at times a little too wilfully idiosyncratic, it’s also a movie where you can nevertheless witness it’s creator’s creativity flowing untrammelled once mo…

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…