‘Paranoia’: a late summer star vehicle without a star

paranoia2At least one head has already rolled at Relativity Media, the company that released the instant flop “Paranoia” on Friday — with a $3.5 million weekend take, the thriller didn’t even crack the top ten.

The Hollywood Reporter announced Sunday that the company’s marketing head, Terry Curtin, was being sacked. While the film’s promotional campaign was less than stellar, there was only so much Curtin could do without a strong actor in the leading role.

If you think the stars of “Paranoia” are Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford that’s because the marketing campaign tried to finesse the unfixable hole at the film’s center — the 22-year-old Liam Hemsworth, whose blandness as the besieged tech savvy hero kills whatever hope there might have been for the loose adaptation of a wonderful 2004 thriller by Joseph Finder.

Paranoia4A movie that needed the star power Tom Cruise brought to a similar piece of material in “The Firm” (or, more recently, Bradley Cooper’s charismatic turn in the paranoid thriller “Limitless”), was sunk by a callow actor whose primary attributes, at this point, seem to be a very handsome face and buff body.

The elevation of Hemsworth from a supporting role in “The Hunger Games” franchise to a leading role he was unequipped for is strikingly reminiscent of the use of “Twilight” werewolf Taylor Lautner as the star of the dead-on-arrival “Abduction” two years ago.

Hemsworth plays a New York City tech genius who is used by an evil businessman (Oldman) to infiltrate the company of his arch-rival (Ford) to steal a new and revolutionary cell phone.

The plot doesn’t really hang together — Would just one prototype of the new phone be sitting in a vault at the New York headquarters of Ford’s company? Wouldn’t the breakthrough tech aspects of the new gizmo be documented so that theft could be proven if someone else used them? Would Hemsworth’s post-coital theft of the PR head’s corporate ID get him all the way into the company’s ultimate treasure chest?

With a star in the leading role, the plot holes might not be so problematic — I defy even the biggest fans of “The Firm” to explain how Tom Cruise gets out alive at the end of the movie — because of all of the fun we would have watching a charismatic actor playing a brilliant rogue.

Hemsworth might develop the assurance and acting chops that would make him perfect for a glossy summer thriller a few years from now, but in “Paranoia” he comes off like an ill-prepared understudy suddenly asked to go on for a star.

Joe Meyers