Adam Cassidy knows that down the road he's destined for great things in the tech world. But in the here and now he's just destined to be desperate.
His employer of six years, the cellphone colossus Wyatt Corporation, has just slashed his insurance coverage. That means his aging father's last three trips to the hospital for ongoing heart issues will have to come out of Adam's pocket—to the tune of $40 grand.
But he's got a plan. Along with his four teammates at Wyatt, he's dreamed up a new synthesis of mobile phones and social media that allows users to project all of their data onto any screen in their house. He's convinced that the big man himself, Nicolas Wyatt, will think it's the best idea the company's ever had.
And Adam's smart-mouthed rejoinder after the failed product pitch earns him and his entire team pink slips. So what better way to stick it to the man one last time than a raucous night on the town (followed by drunken casual sex) … all on the corporate credit card.
Wyatt isn't amused with the $16,000 tab Adam and his pals rack up in one wild night. But he has a grudging appreciation for the young man's reckless, unthinking abandon. And so he offers Adam a choice: either suffer prosecution for credit card fraud or net a cool $500,000, plus another million in stock options by spying on Wyatt Corp's chief rival, Eikon (which is headed by Wyatt's old mentor and now antagonist in chief, Jock Goddard). The techie grail? Stealing a forthcoming, game-changing phone prototype.
You know, the one locked away in a biometrically protected vault on the 38th floor of Eikon's HQ in NYC.
Oh, and as for the aforementioned casual sex Adam scrounged up? Well, the hottie he hooked up with is none other than Emma Jennings, Eikon's head of marketing—which simultaneously makes his corporate espionage assignment easier and more difficult as their inevitable romance heats up.
But that's not the only thing heating up.
Inching up almost as fast is the grim temperature of Nicolas Wyatt's threats against Adam, Adam's father and Adam's friends should the newly minted mole mess up his malevolent mission.
We easily see here how Adam's very bad choice to misuse a corporate credit card leaves him vulnerable to Wyatt's blackmailing. And we also see how Adam's motivations slowly change once he's trapped. At first it's all about moi as he embraces the material excess and privilege that come with his new position. As the stakes increase, however, Adam is increasingly struck by his need to protect his father and friends from Wyatt's ever-more-ominous hints about what might happen to them if the ball gets dropped. He's still trying to do something illegal, of course, but his main reason for doing so becomes much more self-sacrificing than self-absorbed.
Accustomed to belittling and berating his father, Adam is also eventually humbled in this area, recanting his barbed words and saying to his dad, "Did I ever tell you you were right about everything? I'm sorry I didn't listen to you." He adds, "One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are," and it's clear that his father is now at the top of that list.
Also in the mix is an FBI agent named Gamble, whom Adam initially spurns … but then helps nail the corporate criminal(s) he's pursuing. And with regard to his career and materialistic dreams, Adam finally admits, "Things I thought I wanted don't seem so important anymore." He insists to Emma, "I do know right from wrong. I'm sorry it took me so long to act on it. … I hope one day I can make things right."
Paranoia also makes some cautionary statements about the omnipresence of technology and our overdependence on it. Hyperbolic yet very real concerns over privacy issues are front and center too as Adam increasingly realizes how much of his life is being tracked.
Adam and Emma share a steamy, suggestive dance before the scene transitions to him shirtless in her empty bed the next morning. (He has to ask her if they had sex because he was too drunk to remember. And it's implied that Emma regularly hooks up with attractive men she has no intention of pursuing a relationship with.) Later, they share a series of passionate kisses before ending up in bed again. This time the ensuing scene involves passionate embraces and shows bare backs while they're in the process of intercourse.
A guy brags about having sex with a girl. Adam says he suspects his father has a sexual relationship with his home nurse. Adam is repeatedly shown shirtless, and a long scene features him wearing only a towel after getting out of the shower. We also see him twice wearing boxer shorts. Emma's outfits reveal cleavage. A shower scene shows her arm.
We hear talk of a hit man and see bloody black-and-white crime scene photos of victims. That hit man later puts a gun to Adam's head. (Adam slugs him and escapes.) Wyatt says in no uncertain terms that he'll kill Adam's father and friends if the young corporate spy fails. And he punctuates his threats by having one of those friends run down with a car, breaking the guy's leg and bruising his face. A lengthy foot pursuit has Adam running through a restaurant, knocking shelves over behind him to block the path.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. Half-a-dozen s-words. There are two or three misuses of God's name (one paired with "d‑‑n"), along with one abuse of Jesus'. "A‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and "p‑‑‑" are each uttered several times. "B‑‑tard" is used once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Adam and his crew get very drunk after getting fired, downing very expensive liquor. (Cîroc is mentioned by name.) We watch as they knock back alcohol from mugs, shot glasses and bottles. Several other scenes depict characters drinking wine or champagne socially. And Allison gets a job as a bartender, prompting several scenes at the bar where she works.
Adam says that even though his father is slowly succumbing to emphysema and congestive heart failure, the older man refuses to quit smoking cigars (and we see him with one in his mouth). Somebody else is shown smoking a cigar too.
Other Negative Elements
Lying, stealing and hacking are all part and parcel of Adam's spying. And as the story unspools, it becomes clear that he's not the only one who's pretending to be something he's not. Wyatt's rationalization for it all? A quote he attributes to Picasso: "A good artist copies. A great artist steals. There's nothing original. We're all stealing."
Paranoia is a standard-issue corporate thriller with the requisite twists and turns—both in the plot and in the main character's growing sense of morality and personal responsibility. And if there's anything more to be said about the subject, it's that this particular iteration of the genre plays out in some compelling ways against the thematic backdrop of technology's increasingly prominent role in our lives.
Mainstream critics have unleashed the heavy artillery in their drubbing of the film, mostly arguing that aesthetically it's boringly derivative of similar stories that have come before (like, say, The Firm). But Plugged In's concerns land more on the moral and ethical end of the spectrum.
I appreciated Adam Cassidy's growth as a person, especially his realization that perhaps his humble, faithful father offered him a better example to follow than he at first is able to see. Still, when Adam eventually tells Emma that he now "know[s] right from wrong," it's clear such knowledge doesn't branch out into the couple's premarital sexual entanglement—a connection that began very casually for both of them. Onscreen, this sort of relationship—one that began as a fling with no further thought of ongoing commitment—is treated as perfectly normal behavior and not worthy of a second thought.
Paranoia, then, sharply critiques dishonesty and greed as moral failings worthy of censure and punishment, even as it reinforces our culture's morality-detached ways of thinking—or not thinking at all—about the role and place of sexuality in relationships.