To truly enjoy "Paranoia," moviegoers must accept some extremely fuzzy math.
The sum of its action-thriller parts don't begin to add up to a satisfying conclusion. Oh, it moves along briskly, spinning a tale of corporate espionage that threatens to corrupt the extremely good-looking young tech wizard Adam (played with limited range by the extremely buff "Hunger Games" star Liam Hemsworth) as he's drawn into a bitter spy-vs.-spy battle between two aging captains of industry.
2.5 stars = Average
Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Amber Heard.
PG-13 for some sexuality, violence and language.
On display are greed, disappointment, ambition. There's scant actual paranoia, because Adam is almost always aware that he's being watched by one or the other high-tech computer companies. A subplot involving the FBI gets thrown in for good measure. In a scene meant to evoke comparison to the 1974 Gene Hackman classic, "The Conversation," Adam rips apart his sleek new apartment when he realizes he's under surveillance. It's not an especially useful exercise, either as homage or plot device. We already know that Adam realizes he's in trouble.
So, here's the surprising part: "Paranoia" is actually kind of fun. It's silly beyond belief, but give credit to director Robert Luketic, who got his start helming "Legally Blonde," and later found success with "Monster-in-Law" and "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!" On a more serious side, he also directed the casino adventure "21."
The man knows his way around a meet-cute. "Paranoia" pushes its luck a bit with the coincidences that bring together Adam and marketing ace Emma (Amber Heard); they are even farther-fetched than the idea of Elle Woods getting into Harvard Law School. "Paranoia" isn't a romantic comedy, but Mr. Luketic's light touch with the courtship saves it from lapsing into a confusing mess of chases down dark alleys in the convoluted third act.
Out on the town with his friends, Adam dances his way over to Emma in a crowded club. They wind up at her place. Cut to the next morning, when Emma shoves him out the door and later tells him "You're not relationship material." Did we mention Emma is a stuck-up Ivy Leaguer with bad manners?
But it won't be long before she's changing that tune, because Adam is about to go the full Eliza Doolittle. Wyatt, the caustic founder of the tech company that just fired him (a gleeful Gary Oldman, sporting a Cockney accent) wants him to work off a big debt by playing corporate spy. Soon Adam is being outfitted in tasteful, neutral suits and pastel slacks, the better to worm his way into the higher echelons of Eikon, a rival company run by Wyatt's former mentor, Goddard (Harrison Ford).
Eikon has developed a revolutionary new smartphone that looks suspiciously like a flex-screen version of the much-rumored Apple iWatch. Wyatt covets the design and at the same time wants to hurt Goddard's feelings. The beef between the two is business and personal.
Adam is constantly taking off his shirt or being given deadlines to download this schematic or steal that prototype. There are lots of "Mission Impossible"-style countdowns on watches as meanies from both camps threaten to do bodily harm to Adam's loved ones. That includes his retired-janitor dad from Brooklyn (Richard Dreyfuss), whose daunting medical bills are yet another reason Adam is forced to endure Wyatt's game.
The players in "Paranoia" can't really make a shallow script appealing, but a few stand out. Embeth Davidtz is sharp and edgy as Wyatt's right-hand woman; she's also Henry Higgins to Adam's Eliza. Lucas Till is the geeky best friend who helps Adam devise a possible way out of his troubles, and Julian McMahon does his best playing the thankless role of corporate enforcer. It's fun to see Mr. Oldman and Mr. Ford -- together for the first time since 1997's "Air Force One" -- growl at each other. There's even a scene with Mr. Hemsworth walking around in a bath towel.
It may be mid-August, but it's still summer-movie season.
Maria Sciullo: email@example.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. First Published August 16, 2013 4:00 AM