“There’s nothing original left in the world. We’re all stealing from somebody,” says cynical Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman), to his haplessly ensnared quarry, cocky young Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth), at one point in Robert Luketic’s would-be cyber-thriller “Paranoia.” Though Wyatt is a techno-magnate, his sentiment would fit comfortably on the tongue of any Hollywood studio executive green-lighting projects derivative of far better films—in other words, movies like this one.
When we first meet handsome hunk Cassidy, supposedly a Brooklyn boy from a lower-class background, he’s employed in a menial job at Wyatt’s firm but gets fired after making a bad pitch to his nasty boss—and this after learning that WyattCo had cancelled insurance coverage for his emphysema-ridden dad (Richard Dreyfuss), who’s just racked up another forty grand in medical bills. In a pique he treats the other members of his planning team, who were also fired, to a $16,000 night out on the company’s dime before going home with an attractive woman (Amber Heard) he meets at the bar.
That faux pas gives Wyatt the leverage to blackmail the poor fellow into inveigling his way into the executive suite of Eikon, his main competitor run by his old partner and now bitter enemy, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford, with a nearly bald pate), in order to steal the highly-protected details of the revolutionary product Goddard is in final stages of developing. With ridiculous ease Cassidy gets the job, and with equally absurd ease, and an assist from his old office buddy Kevin (Lucas Till), he rescues a moribund project and becomes Jock’s new golden boy, despite the misgivings of Eikon’s marketing chief, Emma Jennings—who just happens to be that attractive woman he met at the bar and went to bed with! Oh, happy coincidence!
The plot goes its twisty way from there, with poor Adam eventually caught between a rock and a hard place in the form of these two giants of the digital world while he tries to build a relationship with Emma. The picture tries desperately to build suspense over his ethical dilemmas, tossing threats from Wyatt’s brutal enforcer (Julian McMahon) and intervention of an FBI agent (Josh Holloway) who closely resembles him, as well as several heart-to-hearts with his crusty but honorable dad. It doesn’t take, largely because Hemsworth makes such a pallid protagonist. He’s certainly good at showing off his physique—he takes off his shirt at the drop of a hat, and in long shots he moves well. But when required to act, he proves incapable of anything but a vaguely embarrassed smile or an expression of mild discontent. When he’s supposed to be wracked by the fear that he’s constantly being watched by surveillance cameras, Luketic is compelled to use a wildly edited montage to conceal the fact that his ransacking of Adam’s sleekly modern apartment in search of snooping equipment, Hemsworth looks more petulant than paranoid.
Fortunately there’s some consolation in watching Oldman and Ford go through their paces as the purported titans of the smart phone trade. Though they face off in the same scene on only a couple of occasions, they go at it like a pair of well-trained dancers, with Oldman’s frenzied scenery chewing playing beautifully off Ford’s laid-back, calculated grumpiness. Both Heard and Embeth Davidtz, as Wyatt’s chief advisor, play second fiddle to the men, and while the technical side of the movie is competent enough, the editing by Dany Cooper and Tracy Adams sometimes seems off, and Junkie XL’s score thumps irritatingly, especially in the numerous helicopter shots of the New York skyline by David Tattersall that Luketic enjoys using in transitions.
At a time when the NSA’s surveillance programs are generating such controversy, one would have thought that a picture about private companies’ invasion of people’s privacy (a concept that Goddard dismisses airily as an illusion) might have generated more thoughtfulness, as well as some thrills. But as Ford growls near its close, “Big mistake” (a phrase that applies to the whole movie, as well as a decision to plunk down the price of a ticket). “Paranoia” turns out to be just a tepid would-be corporate thriller with a young lead not ready for prime time, and even old hands like Ford and Oldman can’t save it.