Hitting screens just as Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA stir public debate over privacy issues, Robert Luketic's high-tech corporate espionage thriller Paranoia has the distinct advantage of topicality; what it lacks is a charismatic lead and a cracking screenplay capable of making us break into a cold sweat.
Determined to get his name on a door after toiling in the cubicle farm for six years, Wyatt Telecom peon Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) is horrified after a key presentation turns disastrous, and his misuse of the company's discretionary fund earns him the wrath of unforgiving CEO Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman). At first threatening legal action for his losses, Wyatt quickly offers to cut a deal; should Adam agree to infiltrate Eikon, the rival company run by Wyatt's former partner Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford), the vengeful CEO will turn a blind eye to the ambitious young upstart's error. In no time Adam is climbing straight to the top of Eikon's corporate food chain, even managing to hop in bed with high-powered executive Emma Jennings (Amber Heard). No one suspects a thing, and meanwhile Wyatt is gaining a distinct advantage over the competition. Later, upon realizing that his success is a mere illusion and that he's become a pawn in a much bigger game, Adam hatches an ingenious plan to get out of his situation before it's too late.
Early in Paranoia, Adam is walking down a busy Manhattan street when a vaguely menacing figure beckons him into a shiny black town car - the kind that moviegoers know most passengers never emerge from. After obliging when it's revealed that the owner of said town car is none other than the powerful Nicholas Wyatt, Adam sits in the passenger seat twirling his Samsung Galaxy in hand, incredulous as to how the driver managed to track him down. Of course the audience knows that the answer resides in the palm of his hand, and if Adam was half as smart as we've been led to believe he is, he would, too. That's just one of many scenes in Paranoia highlighting the ways that current technology continues to compromise our expectations of privacy, and despite the drama-deflating lapse in logic, it's those scenes that are also the most effective at eliciting the film's eponymous sense of dread.
Of course that isn't to slight the on-screen charisma of heavyweights Ford and Oldman; their two memorable confrontations in Paranoia lend the film a credibility that chiseled void Hemsworth lacks in his role as the entitled ladder-climber desperate not to end up like his emphysema-stricken father (Richard Dreyfuss), a former security guard whose measly salary wasn't enough to keep his late wife on the right side of the law after she fell gravely ill. And though production designers David Brisbin and Missy Stewart slyly contrast Wyatt and Goddard by portraying the former's house as a chilly fortress (replete with sniper practice space) and the latter's as an oak palace lined with inviting fluffy couches, there's never any doubt that things aren't as simple as they seem on the surface - a suspicion that no doubt robs Paranoia's big reveal of crucial dramatic impact. Likewise, though the technology presented in the film may be cutting edge, Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy's screenplay is as conservative and conventional as they come. Try as Luketic might to obscure this with flashy visual trickery in the opening scenes, even he seems to give in as the film jettisons that pulsing style to settle into a comfortable rhythm.
With the exception of a few tense scenes involving data and hardware thievery, that familiar rhythm effectively negates much of the film's tension, even rendering Oldman's sharp-dressed corporate shark oddly toothless. Without that bite, Paranoia never quite manages to thrill in its attempt to portray corporate America as a sea that's swimming with unseen perils.