Published Aug 16, 2013Much like the majority of films made in the U.S. over the last three years, Paranoia preoccupies itself with greed and the economy, opening with a speech from "bridge and tunnel" protagonist Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) about the current state of wealth acquisition. Noting that a degree and hard work no longer lead to a secure lifestyle (in a painfully overt voiceover), he sets up a template for duplicity as practical mode of obtaining the myth of the American dream.
While scrambling his way up the ladder within the lexicon of digital technology, Adam is promptly fired by prototypical CEO douchebag Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) after a pitch session—one that ostensibly makes device usage interchangeable with all isolating modes of "connecting"—leaving him in a pinch for funds to pay his father's (Richard Dreyfuss) medical bills. This, along with a bit of blackmail from Nicolas, leads him down a path towards moral ambiguity when he reluctantly accepts a role spying on a competing organization (run by Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford), attempting to steal their latest cell phone technology.
Amidst glossy montages acclimating Adam to the executive lifestyle—behavioural psychologist Judith Bolton (Embeth Davidtz) offers some glib advice on how to exploit emotion for rapid social connectivity—there's a shallow love story involving marketing exec Emma Jennings (Amber Heard), whom Adam uses to achieve his goal.
In theory, the basic admonitory about using others for personal gain, mirroring the titular "paranoia" is mistrust of the two competing CEO's with Adam's gradual mental deterioration and inner-conflict, works out of sheer obviousness. What this minor psychological thriller understands are the aspects, both social and economic, defining the idea of happiness and what it means to choose fiscal success over connectivity, using time to connect with others rather than selling it for the acquisition of impressive goods.
It's just a shame that a film that fancies itself astute and psychologically aware defines its characters and their relationships with such flighty, flimsy signifiers. Adam is defined, quite literally, as a dog, hungry for success, not wanting to limit his potential as his father did. Beyond that he's prone to suggestion and acts on hormonal urges, pursuing Emma, a character defined simply by her connection to a powerful family and feelings of inferiority based on their high expectations. Together, they have little to do but make moony eyes at each other, which leaves the emotional conflict, a conflict that essentially drives the climax of the film, feeling completely limp.
Similarly problematic, beyond the basic absurdity of a story involving gel fingerprints and the ill-defined, almost magical, use of email Trojans, is Luketic's vision. He knows how to make things look shiny and slick, utilizing glass and mirrors wherever possible, but his lack of subtlety and the handling of human nuance is particularly evident in a film that relies on it for success.
Close-ups of cell phone passwords cutting to an eyeline match and the overt visualization of characters reacting abnormally to any given situation reveals far too much about the handful of third act twists intended to pack a dramatic punch. And since the characters are already little more than laughably constructed ciphers, the lack of intensity in narrative composition leaves the entire exercise feeling like a futile wasted opportunity.
There's some inherent appeal to the trash template of it all—it's formulated like a '90s erotic thriller, only without the graphic nudity and sex—but Luketic is far too populist and bland to capture any edginess or intrigue. (eOne)