The people behind the new thriller Paranoia probably think their timing is perfect, arriving after a summer dominated by headlines about the NSA and how much they know about us, and the feverishly anticipated arrival of Google Glass, which can document our entire lives without those around us even knowing. And it might be perfect timing if Paranoia actually had anything interesting to say about our all-knowing modern digital culture. A movie about spies and cell phones and technology titans, Paranoia wants so badly to be enmeshed in modern tech headlines, but is so silly and meaningless that it manages to already feel dated.
Technology has advanced immensely since overcooked hacker thrillers of the 90s, but you wouldn't know it from Paranoia, which follows a bunch of horrible people trying to improve cell phone technology in ways that are supposed to be impressive but make no sense whatsoever. When we meet hotshot douchebag Adam (Liam Hemsworth), he's pitching what's supposed to be a game-changing technology to his company's president Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman)-- it apparently puts your phone's screen on your TV, but Adam barely gets into the pitch before Wyatt throws him out and fires Adam and his whole team. Adam is supposedly sympathetic, caring for his emphysema-suffering dad (Richard Dreyfuss, for some reason) and coming from blue collar roots, but he also puts $16k on the company card to take his friends out to an awful-looking club, so… sorry bro. And it turns out, Wyatt actually liked Adam's pitch! He was just magically anticipating Adam blowing that cash so Wyatt could blackmail him into some corporate espionage against Eikon, the rival tech company run by Wyatt's former mentor, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford).
The reunion of Air Force One foes Ford and Oldman is pretty much the best thing Paranoia has going for it, and it knows it, dragging out their face-to-face conflict to nearly the end of the film. But neither actor goes the kind of Full Bonkers you would hope for, with Oldman retreating into his own features and expensive suits to look like a sharply dressed mouse, and Ford at least glowering in an engaged way, but not an especially striking one. Aside from that "Now I'm standing on your neck!" line their rivalry is tepid and muddled by the loopy plot at the film's center, in which it's obvious that they're both double and triple-crossing each other behind Hemsworth's back, and we just have to wait patiently until the end for it all to be revealed. Ford is developing some kind of amazing phone technology and Oldman wants to see the specs, but from what we hear the new phone is essentially a souped-up Google Wallet, which has failed to catch on. Not exactly world-changing stuff.
As the younger brother of Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, and the most neglected point so far of the Hunger Games love triangle, Liam Hemsworth has a natural also-ran quality to him that does nothing for the amped-up tech god he's supposed to be playing here. Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy's script doesn't offer him a lot to work with-- the conflicting details of "cares for sick dad" and "blows money at awful clubs" are meant to enrich him, but never line up-- but Hemsworth can't put the pieces together anyway, leaning on a smidge of charm and endless shots of his shirtless torso to make us follow Adam through this corporate espionage wormhole. Director Robert Luketic essentially follows suit, assembling crisply shot scenes and a thrumming, anonymous score to make the whole thing feel like it ought to be thrilling. Paranoia and its lead both get the surface-level stuff right, but none of the depth that makes actual thrillers succeed.
Promising supporting players are littered all over the edges of the story, from Embeth Davidtz as a chilly psychologist who helps Wyatt with all his manipulating to Amber Heard, trapped in a thankless role as Adam's corporate love interest at Eikon but still managing to be sultry even in square office clothes. Lucas Till, mysteriously outfitted with slicked-back Gordon Gekko hair, is perfectly serviceable as Adam's left-behind pal, but Lost's Josh Holloway is wasted as a generic FBI agent who arrives late in the film. Holloway's name in the credits promised more potential than the entire exhausted premise of Paranoia, but the movie found a way to squander that too. In a movie in which a Gary Oldman-Harrison Ford standoff is boring, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.