Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Cinema File #247: "Paranoia" Review

Do you remember that shitty movie with Ryan Phillipe called Anti-Trust? No? It was sort of a techno-thriller that came out in 2001 and had Tim Robbins in it as a Bill Gates-esque evil billionaire? Well, I don't know if I just have 80's era computer pioneers on the brain after sitting through Jobs and iSteve recently, but this was the first movie I thought of while watching the latest tech industry espionage thriller Paranoia. If like much of America you didn't bother seeing either of these films upon release, the comparison will be lost on you, but if I had to describe Paranoia, I'd say it was like Anti-Trust, but with a much better cast, and yet somehow even more boring.

Paranoia follows a twenty something lesser Hemsworth who is far too handsome to be shilling cell phone apps but nonetheless finds himself locked in a conspiratorial power struggle between two telecommunications magnates when one of them blackmails him to join the company of the other to steal trade secrets. This movie has Richard Dreyfuss in it, which I only point out because for some reason I've always seen his inclusion in a film as a mark of quality, and for the life of me, I can't fathom why. It's not that I like him all that much as an actor, What About Bob? not withstanding, but he just seems like one of those guys that's so selective about what he does that if he bothered to show up, there has to be something worthwhile, right? It now suddenly occurs to me that this was the logic that convinced me to sit through several hours of that awful Tin Man miniseries, but I digress.

Paranoia, for all its ultra-modern high-tech trappings and shallow attempt to distill today's young adult tech savvy culture still feels like a movie ripped straight out of the mid to late-90's. The technical capabilities of the characters may be different, requiring a different narrative style to accommodate what a cell phone can do today versus what it could do back then, but its all still treated almost like speculative fiction. The technology these companies are fighting over, which isn't all that far away from what actually exists, might as well be holograms or virtual reality for all the characters marvel at it. What? My phone can receive signals to tell specific cell phones apart from one another? When did we start living in Star Trek?

The many varied ways one can use a cell phone for things other than its intended purpose of calling other people is weirdly the main focus of the movie, and if you think that sounds ball ache-ingly boring, you'd be absolutely right. Here we have a movie with Gary Oldman and freaking Professor Han Solo Jones as bitter enemies with presumably infinite resources, and the most interesting story to be derived from this set up is some punk kid roped into their little war because he was stupid enough to use a company credit card after he was fired. Yes, that's literally the thing Oldman's character holds over him to get him to break the law as a corporate spy, and its as stupid as about everything else in this movie.

The biggest problem isn't even what's in the movie, but what they left out, namely anything even remotely tense or exciting in anyway. A movie called Paranoia should probably encourage a little bit of, you know, paranoia. The atmosphere should be mysterious and creepy, where you don't know who to trust until the very end as allegiances are constantly shifting and called into question. Instead we get one incredibly predictable plot turn that I would barely even consider a twist, and then a third act revenge arc that takes place entirely over one conversation in a restaurant and basically amounts to the main character realizing the the FBI might be interested in some of this stuff going on.

The trailer suggested this cell phone prodigy was going to use all his high tech hacking skills to bring down these bad guys, but its really not any more sophisticated than had he just worn a wire. Yeah, I know I just spoiled the end of this movie without any warning to speak of, but fuck it, I really don't care. Because that's how banal and pointless this movie is. If you cared enough about seeing it that you're mad about it (and if so I'd be curious as to why you haven't seen it already), than I would suggest watching it, and then realizing how silly it was to invest even that much emotion in the prospect of Paranoia. Or better yet, go watch Anti-Trust. Or maybe just Star Wars or something good instead.
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