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Awful Paranoia Could Cost Ford an Oscar for 42

Awful <i>Paranoia</i> Could Cost Ford an Oscar for <i>42</i>

DVD Release Date: November 19, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: August 16, 2013
Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality, violence and language
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 100 min. 
Director: Robert Luketic
Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Amber Heard, Embeth Davidtz, Richard Dreyfuss

As summer fades and the Fall Movie Season looms, many movie lovers start thinking about the Oscars. Studios save their big-hitter contenders for the last quarter of the year, in hopes that voters with short memories will nominate the most recently seen films. Often the movies with the strongest Best Picture hopes are those with the best performances of the year, although sometimes an actor in an Oscar hopeful has to compete against himself or herself for awards consideration.

When an actor starring in an Oscar-caliber movie also is featured in a decidedly weaker second film from the same year, the lesser film is used as ammunition against the Oscar campaign—an attempt to embarrass voters into distancing themselves from a performer who had the bad form to appear in an artistic failure.

This conflict is knows as "the Norbit effect," coined after Eddie Murphy failed to win the 2006 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in Dreamgirls. That same year saw the release of Murphy's flop Norbit, and industry insiders speculated that Norbit hurt Murphy's chances to claim an Oscar (Murphy lost the Best Supporting Actor category to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine). The more hopeful example is Sandra Bullock, who won the Best Actress Oscar for The Blind Side in 2009 despite the September release of her poorly-received All About Steve.

Paranoia, a new techno-thriller starring Harrison Ford, could be Ford's Norbit this year. The actor gave one of his most memorable performances in years as Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey in 42—the kind of late-career role that reminds you what a likeable actor Ford can be. His Rickey could be a likely player in the Supporting Actor race this year. That is, unless the paltry, run-of-the-mill Paranoia torpedoes Ford's chances.

Ford acquits himself well in Paranoia, as does co-star Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). It's the routine, predictable nature of the story that dooms the film, which is never tense when it needs to be; viewers have very limited investment in the fate of the main characters. Worst of all is the complete lack of suspense in the film. Paranoia is a "thriller" that fizzles early.

The plot revolves around young Adam's (Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games) determination to rise through the ranks of his tech company. Along with a team of co-workers, he presents a product proposal to his boss, Nicolas Wyatt (Oldman), only to be shot down and shown the door. After Adam celebrates his termination by running up a huge tab at the company's expense, Wyatt calls him back in and offers him a proposition: he won't press charges against Adam for his lavish expenditure if Adam agrees to infiltrate Eikon, the corporation run by Wyatt's rival, Jock Goddard (Ford). Wyatt wants Adam to bring him details of Eikon's secretive new product.

Adam agrees but then finds himself in over his head, exploiting an Eikon marketing executive (Amber Heard, Drive Angry) for information, even as he falls for her.

That relationship subplot is just one of Paranoia's excuses for showing its lead actor shirtless. Although Hemsworth has more potential as an actor than his hunk-of-the-moment reputation might indicate, the filmmakers all-too-apparently doubt their audience's interest in his acting ability. The same can't be said for Oldman and Ford, who dig into their villainous roles with relish, even though the story, based on a novel by Joseph Finder, plays like a rehash of every other corporate thriller of the past decade.

Will the failure of Paranoia hurt Ford's 42 Oscar chances? Maybe not. To do damage, voters will have to remember Paranoia come the end of the year. Frankly, those who see it will have a hard time remembering it by the time they go home. Despite some zesty moments for Oldman and Ford, Paranoia evokes nothing like the sensation indicated by its title. "Ponderous" is more apt.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; s-word; a-word; "what the hell"; "p-ss and vinegar"
  • Drinking/Smoking: Several scenes of drinking, including excessive consumption at a nightclub; Jock's son is said to have died from a drug overdose; cigar smoking
  • Sex/Nudity: A man stares at a woman's backside; a nightclub bouncer says the club has a "no virgins" policy; a man says to a woman that now that they’re not working together, the can start sleeping together; at a nightclub, a woman tells her male co-workers that if they don’t "get lucky" that night, they never will; Adam wakes up in the bed of a woman he met at a nightclub; we see Adam's chest several times, and see him walking around with a towel around his waist, as well as showering (from the waist up); a woman wrapped in a towel gets out of the shower; when a man's girlfriend gets hit on at a bar, her boyfriend informs the man, "We’re sleeping together"; Adam says, "I'm trying to sleep my way to the top"; kissing; Adam and Emma have sex, and we see both of their bare upper backs
  • Violence/Crime: Adam struggles with an armed man; punching; a man is struck by a car
  • Religion/Morals/Marriage: Adam's team members criticize him for "arguing with God"—a reference to their company's boss; trust is said to be the "holy grail" of espionage; a character says, "there is no right and wrong, only winning and losing"

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Publication date: August 19, 2013