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‘Paranoia’ a generic thriller, but old pros make it watchable

Embeth Davidtz and Liam Hemsworth in “Paranoia.”


Embeth Davidtz and Liam Hemsworth in “Paranoia.”

“Paranoia” is a plug-and-play Hollywood thriller, the kind they’ve been making for decades and will continue to make as long as there are stories and screens. The formula is as follows: Take a handsome up-and-coming male lead (here it’s Liam Hemsworth, Gale in “The Hunger Games” franchise), surround him with aging stars in juicy character roles (Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman), and send them all chasing after a MacGuffin — these days it has to be high-tech, and it is — that ultimately means nothing to the plot. Fold in a dewy romantic interest (Amber Heard, pretty and bland), a glasses-wearing best friend (Lucas Till), a hired assassin with some kind of visual gimmick (Julian McMahon with a bad dye job), and, bingo, you’ve got generic product fit for consumption on an airplane, in a hotel room, or anywhere there’s enforced down time.

But sometimes you have a hankering for processed cheese, and “Paranoia,” while hardly the best the genre has to offer, is far from the worst. Hemsworth is easy on the eyes — the producers have made sure to give him a shower scene or two — as Adam Cassidy, a Brooklyn striver at a Manhattan tech corporation run by evil genius Nicolas Wyatt (Oldman, wearing bespoke suits and a spiv accent). Wyatt is locked in an intensely personal war with former mentor and business rival Jock Goddard (Ford) and blackmails Adam into getting hired on at Goddard’s Eikon Corp. for undercover industrial espionage.

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Smoothly and impersonally directed by journeyman Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde,” “Monster-in-Law”), “Paranoia” unfolds in gleaming high-rise office suites, palatial Hamptons mansions, and lunch clubs for the 1 percent. A few shots of Williamsburg get thrown in for street cred. That’s where Adam’s rascally invalid father lives, holding down the same old-school values Martin Sheen did in “Wall Street.” The character’s played by Richard Dreyfuss, but, wait, is he even in the same gene pool as Hemsworth?

No matter. Harder to buy into is the way “Paranoia” gins up suspense in the modern manner: lots of shots of buttons pushed, keyboards frantically typed upon, and progress bars crawling toward completion. The script by Jason Hall and Barry L. Levy (adapted from Boston author Joseph Finder’s novel) throws in a few desultory twists, none of which are surprising if you’ve seen this kind of movie before. And you have.

The entertainment in “Paranoia” lies in watching the pros at work: Ford settling into his role of a wily old bastard like it’s a comfy chair, Oldman biting off his lines with extra relish, Dreyfuss schpritzing happily away, Embeth Davidtz as Wyatt’s lethally cool factotum. Next to them, the kids — Hemsworth, Heard, Till, the striking Angela Sarafyan as part of Adam’s tech team — come off as gorgeous zygotes. They’re the ones who should be paranoid: Their elders are stealing every scene they’re in.

Ty Burr can be reached at
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