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

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.