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Paranoia | Review

Check Check Check Mate: Luketic’s Bland Thriller an Injustice to White Collar Crime

Paranoia Robert Luketic PosterAnother bungled disappointment from Robert Luketic arrives in the form of Paranoia, which thankfully sees the director leaving behind Katherine Heigl in exchange for a glossy corporate thriller, though he forgot that it needed to make sense or make an attempt to be interesting. Worse, many are sure to be disappointed with the film’s misleading title, as something equally vague like The Double Cross, The Back Stab, or Insider Trading Snafu would be more apt, since no one ever seems to act very paranoid, and, in fact, the characters presented here couldn’t possibly seem more calculatingly self-assured.

Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) is a young tech wizard that has been slumming in an entry level position at a powerful company owned by Nick Wyatt (Gary Oldman) one of the two most powerful tech billionaires in Manhattan. All that is about to change as Adam and his team are about to pitch a new idea to Wyatt, one that they’re sure will be a success and open doors for them all in the company. As predicted, they fail miserably and suddenly find themselves out of a job, leading Adam to take the team out for drinks and using their soon to expire expense account. While clubbing, he meets the beautiful Emma (Amber Heard), and has a one night fling, only to be cruelly rebuffed the next morning. At the same time, Wyatt’s thugs come hunting for him, as his old boss now wishes to blackmail Adam; either go to jail for charging 16,000 dollars on the expense account or work undercover at Eikon, Wyatt’s main competitor run by nemesis and ex-mentor Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford). With the help of a behavioral psychologist (Embeth Davidtz), Adam learns how to play a wolf in sheep’s clothing and thus sets off to wheedle Intel on Jock’s latest little contraption so Wyatt can steal it. Meanwhile, he discovers that Emma is the marketing whiz at Eikon, and the FBI soon comes knocking.

Frenetic fast-forwards and NYC traffic montages are about the only nifty flairs employed here as the proceedings are granted no sense of humor, intelligence or even basic tension. Omniscient narration from Hemsworth’s character opens the film by informing us that his generation’s opportunities for success were stolen from men that lied, cheated, and stole to keep their money. It used to be possible for people that worked hard, got good grades and a degree you could make something of yourself in this country. Yes, for straight white men that willingly assimilated into these societal notions of success, this statement rings true. But for a technologically informed thriller, this sure sounds like privileged 1950s era rhetoric. And thus, the film reveals its delirious sense of self entitlement that drives its antiquated narrative.

An intriguing cast should draw victims into its wake, what with the grizzled Ford and the superb Oldman, both unoffending here, but even their bitchy rivalry is lukewarm. The usually blonde Amber Heard gets a new hair-do so she can look like a serious executive, and she’s sadly saddled with the formulaic role as the uber bitch priss who incongruously falls in love with an unremarkable leading man. Embeth Davidtz is always an interesting accent, but here is another example of her wallowing in the stagnant supporting character realm, a similarly buttoned up afterthought as is her role in this month’s release of Europa Report. And if anyone wants to know what Alec Baldwin would have seemed like without charisma or personality they can observe Liam Hemsworth’s bland and insipidly dull performance here, though he’s at the mercy of a script that’s screeching to be intelligent but can’t get out of its own contrived box. Robert Luketic, whose directorial debut was 2001’s Legally Blonde, has been wallowing in the generic wave of bland ever since, and his latest his no exception. Paranoia may not be the mental disorder or condition employed here, but it sure inspires anhedonia.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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