I chose to see Paranoia this week. Partly because I enjoy thrillers. Partly because I think Liam Hemsworth’s worth keeping an eye on. But mostly because I really did not want to see another movie about mouthy teenage costume fighters or a biography of the founder of a company that I detest. So I went for the most generic choice by default.
A bitter twentysomething technologist agrees to steal trade secrets from his boss’ competitor in exchange for a better life.
There’s a lot of Cypher in Paranoia, along with a fair bit of Paycheck, and while it’s a good bit less enthralling than both it’s also got one thing they don’t have. Paranoia taps into the bitterness of a generation of un and underemployed college graduates who have been pushed aside by an older generation that refuses to retire, and I can’t say I was unaffected.
Our downtrodden twentysomething hero is Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth). Adam is supposed to be a hipster but looks like a swim team captain whose pants accidentally shrank in the wash. He has a host of clichés prodding him to succeed, including a wheezy old dad with no health insurance (Richard Dreyfuss) and a handful of genius friends (Lucas Till and some other people) who rely on Adam utterly to present their inventions to their boss, Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman). Adam fails to wow Wyatt with their invention and his bitter diatribe on why old people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about gets them all fired.
In retrospect, it may have been a bad idea to let you speak for me.
To be fair, Wyatt was right to reject their invention, because it really wasn’t that impressive. All they wanted to do was project your phone screen onto your TV. In fact, none of the technology in this movie is all that high tech. Even the super-secret device Wyatt wants Adam to steal is just a cell phone watch. This is a big point against it considering it’s supposed to be a high tech movie. Paycheck came out 10 years ago and we still don’t have the devices they were working on in that movie, whereas I think my phone company currently offers Adam’s big idea.
Oops, and since the DVD came out we also got the watch thing too.
Wyatt treats his employees slightly worse than a research doctor would treat experimental animals, so when Adam and his friends get fired they go on a bender with their discretionary account. Because if there’s one thing you want to give your little guinea pigs, it’s an American Express black card. Not being a total moron, Wyatt knows about it and threatens legal action against Adam if he doesn’t agree to spy on Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford), Wyatt’s old mentor and the current owner of ‘the next big thing’.
Let us do the old cliché of playing a chess match until you realize that I have you over a barrel.
Adam has several clichéd reasons to give in to Wyatt – his uninsured dad, his unemployed friends, and the threat of jail time. BUT for some reason the movie ignores them all and pins Adam’s whole escapade on his desire to succeed. Adam doesn’t take the job for his dad or his pals or his freedom but for designer suits and expensive cars.
I’ve always aspired to be a smug bastard.
And here’s where the reasoning gets really shaky. Despite what you’ve learned from Shark Tank, apparently no one in corporate America will recognize a good idea unless it comes from someone wearing Armani, so Wyatt and his right hand lady Judith (Embeth Davidtz) spiffy Adam up and give him a fancy apartment. I guess just in case Jock checks his credit rating before he gives him a meeting?
And if anyone asks, we totally didn’t fire you. You quit because you were too awesome.
Luckily Adam’s got an ‘in’ with Jock’s company already, having picked up Emma (Amber Heard), their marketing executive, at the club the other night. She wants to date him now that he’s rich and fancy, so the information he wants is essentially handed to him in the same old spy scenes we’re used to. Adam snooping his girlfriend’s computer while she’s in the shower. Watching the status bar tensely as he tries to download forbidden files before someone comes in. Running through a restaurant kitchen to ditch a tail. The only thing different about Paranoia is that Adam can’t seem to keep his trap shut and is always bringing things up in conversation that he shouldn’t know about unless he was spying on them.
So, new friends, how did those horrible traumas you keep hidden make you feel?
Luckily his new employers seem to be thick as old boards so his cover stays solid. The problem is that Adam’s new life is better than his old one, so he starts rejecting his assigned role of industrial spy, which leads to clashes with Wyatt’s goon (Julian McMahon) and ridiculously thin threats from Wyatt, like: “look! We have VIDEO OF YOUR DAD!” There are refreshingly few car chases in this movie (zero), mostly because in the time honored tradition of our generation, Adam is too busy texting to realize he’s being kidnapped.
GOON: Give up!
Eventually plots thicken, secrets are revealed, good guys turn into bad guys and vice versa, and Adam finally decides to fight back with the help of his fellow young rejects. After an entire movie of avoiding the obvious fix for his situation (the police) Adam sees the light and helps to take down the bad guys. Adam hilariously assumes his enemies ‘won’t be seeing light for a very long time,’ when in fact they’ll probably spend a couple of weeks in a prison that looks like Club Med. That’s if they end up in jail at all, given that most of the ‘evidence’ Adam collected probably wouldn’t be admissible in court.
Hey Adam, you know you need a permit for those, right?
Now that I think about it, I realize the only thing that resonated for me about this movie was the part where Adam and his friends can’t get ahead because the older generation is actively fending off their efforts to succeed, and that wasn’t the main focus of the movie. The main focus was a generic techno-thriller that wasn’t very techno or thrilling. To get the same effect (but better) try watching CBC’s Generation Jobless followed by Cypher.