CCNMA: Phoning It In — Paranoia

Are your weekend entertainment plans certified? CCNMA is a weekly feature that explores the movie industry’s love-hate relationship with computing technology. This week’s movie is  NOW IN THEATERS .

Never trust a tech geek who says his name is “Jock.” That may be the biggest takeaway from the IT workplace thriller Paranoia. The new film has sold such an unremarkable number of tickets since its Aug. 16 wide national release that you probably ought to get a babysitter before Friday if you want to see it in a theater where the air conditioning works and the seating was installed more recently than 1989.

Seriously, though, would you ask “Jock” the, um, computer guy to firewall your network? Actually, you might, since this particular “Jock” is played by Harrison Ford, who staked out a niche for himself in the “I have to upload/download these files in the next 15 seconds or (your plot point here)” genre with Firewall back in 2006. It doesn’t exactly spell C-R-E-D-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y, but playing a network tech in the movies is one step closer to configuring a WLAN than most people have ever gotten.

My point is that guys named “Jock” played linebacker in high school before moving up to get jobs either selling insurance, pumping gas, or stocking shelves at Costco. So if a know-it-all tech zillionaire says that his name is “Jock,” then either a) he’s lying, or b) he inherited. Turn outs it’s — spoiler! — the former in the case of “Jock” Goddard, who we learn at the end of the movie is actually named “Augustine.”

In Paranoia, Augustine/”Jock” and rival tech lord Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) make life rough for brash whiz kid Adam Cassidy, played by auxiliary Hemsworth Brother Liam (younger sibling of Thor star Chris). You can tell that Adam is hot (stuff) because one of his first scenes finds him seated behind a standard-issue Hollywood Electrical Engineering Worktable.

The HEEW is always covered by electronics that have been meticulously dissected like so many pickled frogs from high school biology, and usually features at least one balanced-arm lamp, as well as a large swivel-mounted lens for magnification. In Paranoia, Adam’s HEEW is strictly to keep up appearances. Whenever he needs to solve an actual tech problem, Adam does what most people do: He calls up his more socially maladroit buddy (Lucas Till) with the funny hair and glasses.

Adam and GeekBud are ground-level flunkies at Wyatt’s megalithic telecom corporation, hoping to ride their Big Idea — a smartphone that does, er, more stuff — to the executive washroom. After a Shark Tank-style presentation in front of the Big W himself is a non-starter, however, the boys get pink-slipped, along with their entire five-person R&D cohort.

(The startling thing is not that Adam can’t hit the strike zone, it’s that anyone ever let him take the mound in the first place. “We’re all in the business of connecting people,” he pitches, hitting about 42 on the radar gun. A few seconds later, he asserts that what the world needs is “a phone that doesn’t just look new — a phone that is new.” We’re sure this guy works here? He didn’t just walk in off the street?)

At any rate, the gang celebrates failure at a ritzy dance club by hitting three zeroes on the company card HR somehow failed to confiscate at Adam’s exit interview. The next morning, Wyatt needs a corporate spy to infiltrate former mentor Augustine/“Jock’s” rival Eikon Corp., and, oh, look who just committed highly blackmailable credit card fraud! Adam is suddenly a pawn in a high-stakes race to unveil the future of smartphone technology.

It’s a race that hurtles down all of the usual tracks: Adam betrays or disappoints everyone who’s counting on him, including his emphysemic father (Richard Dreyfuss), unfailingly loyal GeekBud, and hot new girlfriend Emma (Amber Heard), an on-the-make marketing exec at Eikon. Wyatt and his creepy henchman keep applying pressure, then renege on their original deal after Adam gets them what they want. The movie gradually paints him into a corner so tight he’d need a butter knife to open his wallet.

There are a whole lot of MacBook Air laptops everywhere you look, so either the movie is set five years ago, or Apple paid a pretty penny for product placement about five years ago. Also, Sawyer from LOST shows up as an FBI guy who’d like to get the goods on both Augustine/”Jock” and Wyatt. He doesn’t hand out any pithy nicknames, but the tables are turned on the once-and-former castaway tough guy when his character is briefly (and derisively) referred to as “O.J.” (The juice is loose!)

Speaking of turning the tables, Adam may or may not figure out how to extricate himself from his predicament. And his techno-wriggling may or may not involve moderately clever integration of indoor positioning system technology (which the movie calls 3D PS). Most of the technobabble in movies like Paranoia is just babble, but once in a while the filmmakers get lucky. Even a broken clock, as they say, is right twice a day. (Only, if the clock is broken, how can anyone see the digital display? Hmm … )

PROGRAMMING NOTES

THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN: As seen in trailers for Paranoia, when Wyatt complains to Augustine/“Jock” that, “You stood on my shoulders,” A/”J” snarls, “And now I’m standing on your neck!” Can anyone name the last time that Ford tough-talked Gary Oldman? That’s right, it’s an Air Force One reunion. (“Get off my plane!”)

8 MINUTE ABS: What they don’t reveal in the “getting acquainted with Adam” portion of the movie is where he keeps his StairMaster, chin-up bar, Soloflex and ab-rocker. I hope Liam Hemsworth got a pay-per-beefcake bonus, because not even Calvin Klein models are expected to be shirtless this often.

ON THE RECORD: Come on, villains, throw me a bone! Stop talking about your evil scheme unless you are absolutely certain there are no media-enabled devices within the sound of your voice. Poor A/”J” even makes a casual security sweep before spilling the beans, but it’s not enough in a movie with more surveillance-capable devices than an NSA outlet store.

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Chip Hartweir

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CHIP HARTWEIR is a Certified Cinemaniac who likes movies, computers and especially movies about computers. He has won numerous awards for writing about film and has a keyboard with arm's reach most hours of the day. E-mail him at chiphartweir (at) gmail (dot) com.

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