For a movie set in the cutting-edge, evolve-or-die world of smartphone engineering, Paranoia feels hopelessly passé. Beyond a few digs at Wall Street corruption and many, many shots of characters swiping at touch screens, this corporate-espionage thriller from director Robert Luketic (21, Killers) could easily have been conceived two decades ago. The clichés are as old as AOL: There’s a scene where the hero, a blackmailed corporate climber played by Liam Hemsworth (brother of Chris), waits on pins and needles for a download to complete, his eyes darting nervously between the slow-crawling progress bar and the running shower in the other room. In another familiar moment, a security guard stops the up-to-no-good protagonist (“Mr. Cassidy…”), pauses for an inordinately long period of time, and then says something innocuous (“…working late tonight?”). And the film basically ends with he hoariest convention of them all, a comeuppance that should heretofore be permanently retired from movies, if for no other reason than no actual fat-cat villain would ever fall for it again. (Hint: Tape recorders exist.)
Unceremoniously shitcanned for thinking big—“This pitch is gonna change our lives” are his famous last words to the team—a distraught Hemsworth charges his $16,000 bar tab on the company credit card. (Are the Red Bull-and-vodkas served in hollowed-out Fabergé eggs?) His former boss, a hammy Gary Oldman, offers him the choice between jail time and going undercover at another tech company, run by the mogul’s old business partner (Harrison Ford, sporting a chrome dome and chewing the scenery nearly as voraciously as he did in this spring’s 42). After a weekend at Embeth Davidtz’s executive boot camp, where his grooming includes playing symbolic chess games while wearing sunglasses, mini-Thor ends up successfully infiltrating the rival corporation. Here, he grapples with pangs of guilt, provoked by stern lectures from his sickly father (Richard Dreyfuss, looking very sick indeed) and a budding romance with colleague Amber Heard, who he randomly hooked up with at the club a few days earlier. Surely, that chance encounter must be no accident, but a product of the inevitable long-con the film is building towards. Nope, it’s just a wildly unlikely coincidence.
As a post-financial-crisis movie, Paranoia is muddled at best, wagging its finger at Hemsworth’s ambitious bridge-and-tunnel type while fetishizing the life of luxury he cheats his way into. As a thriller, it’s downright laughable, featuring scenes of corporate henchmen performing hit-and-runs in broad daylight. (Hired gun Julian McMahon displays none of the caution and deadly finesse of, say, the killers in Michael Clayton.) The title doesn’t even make much sense, as the element of they’re-always-watching dread doesn’t pop up until the last half hour or so. The film works only, if at all, as an unofficial Air Force One reunion, with Ford stopping just short of bellowing “Get off my jock!” during a pair of gritted-teeth encounters with Oldman. Some pleasures never go out of fashion.