There’s a long tradition of dumb action movies and no-brainer comedies, but a mindless corporate thriller is an oxymoron. The form only works when characters plot and counterplot with the finesse of chess masters, and the consequence of one ploy leads with clockwork inevitability to the next. “Paranoia” is too sloppy and slack to inspire tension.
Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman play tech-king adversaries, with Liam Hemsworth as the low-level employee working both sides. The film is pretty enough to look at — it’s like an ominous Pottery Barn catalog — and Hemsworth delivers on the level of eye candy what he lacks in dramatic skill. His character is a striver from Brooklyn with an ailing salt-of-the-earth dad (Richard Dreyfuss) who delivers nuggets of moral guidance as mechanically as a gumball machine.
Oldman, the snarly CEO of the smartphone company that employs Hemsworth as an apps developer, gets his hooks into the kid, promising him the moon if he infiltrates Ford’s rival firm to steal a Plot Device.
The story takes an odd swerve as Oldman sends Hemsworth to a weekend finishing school to buff away his rough edges and make him the very model of a rising star executive. He’s decked out in a GQ wardrobe and set up in a magnificent loft, the sort of glam wish-fulfillment fantasy that usually occurs in women’s pictures. The Pygmalion makeover merely slows an already interminable time-waster.
Director Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde”) isn’t in synch with his material. “Paranoia” derives from themes of omnipresent surveillance, but it has little connection to real-world anxieties about eroding privacy. It’s not a great exercise in razzle-dazzle style either: Here, corporate henchmen inevitably carpool in big, black, conspicuous Escalades. The suspense scenes don’t have any rhythmic flow or logic. You wonder why Hemsworth is toiling away as a corporate cog. His supernatural ability to figure out secret pass codes in seconds would get him a corner office at the NSA.
Much of the film involves smartphone skullduggery, and the temptation is to say that the cast phoned in their performances. They didn’t. They texted. Oldman lays on the loathsomeness, but doesn’t supply the mocking flourishes that make his villains distinctive. Ford’s avuncular act as his arch rival is so transparent that any alert viewer will anticipate a switcheroo. There’s no payoff when the masks come off. “Paranoia” has no new tricks up its sleeves. It doesn’t even have sleeves.