Eric D. Snider

Firewall

It's been nine long years since Harrison Ford starred in something he belonged in -- and that was "Air Force One," which was certainly no masterpiece. His output since then -- "Random Hearts," "K-19: The Widowmaker," "Six Days Seven Nights," etc. -- has been shaky at best, often embarrassing in its attempt to re-create Ford as something other than what he is. Some actors have range; others have a "type," a persona they play well and stick to. With "Firewall," Ford seems to have accepted that he falls into the latter group, and he's stopped horsing around with romantic comedies and dour dramas and whatever the hell "K-19: The Widowmaker" was.

Ford is at his best when he's a hero saving the world/his family/his airplane, and it's essential that it be under these circumstances: He must be reluctantly drawn into action, rather than out looking for it; he must be weary and grizzled, perhaps even cynical; and he must speak in a growly whisper.

"Firewall" lets him do all of that, albeit a little more slowly and cautiously than before, and in the service of a plot that is ludicrous and predictable (if still blandly diverting). Ford plays Jack Stanfield, the head of security for a bank headquartered in Seattle, where he lives with his wife Beth (Virginia Madsen) and their two generic children, 14-year-old Sarah (Carly Schroeder) and 8-year-old Andrew (Jimmy Bennett).

Aside from having to live in a city of hipster posers and professional hobos, the Stanfields have a fine life, a fine life indeed, all apricots and junebugs and maypoles. But then, wouldn't you know it, bad guys take Beth and the kids hostage and threaten to kill them unless Jack steals $100 million for them from his bank's customers. Isn't that always the way?

The chief baddie is Bill Cox (Paul Bettany). His motive appears to be simple greed; he's not one of those tiresome "I have a grudge" or "I want to make a political statement" villains that you see in some of your more ambitious action thrillers. He's assisted by four goons, one to follow Jack to work and make sure he's following his instructions, and three to stay home with the hostages. Lest there be any confusion, director Richard Loncraine ham-fistedly hints pretty early on which goon is incompetent, which is crazy, and which is sympathetic.

So Jack's at work, making his co-workers think it's business as usual while his strings are being pulled by unseen evil forces, and while he's trying to devise a way out of this mess. Jack's tasks for Bill Cox are the usual high-tech feats -- copy this, download that, encrypt those, and so forth -- and a lot of Joe Forte's from-the-template screenplay sounds like senseless techno-jargon. But Chloe from TV's "24" (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is here, still a little sour and odd as Jack's secretary -- OMG, she's even working for another Jack! -- and if you can listen to people spout nonsense about vectors and protocols and admins once a week on TV, I guess you can handle it here.

Jack Stanfield is no Jack Bauer, though. Harrison Ford is going to be 64 this year, and let's just say "Firewall" doesn't bode well for that new Indiana Jones movie. "Firewall" occasionally eschews the gadgetry for low-tech, old-fashioned things like whacking a guy in the head with a blender, and while Ford manages THAT OK, seeing him run, or clamber across rooftops, or grapple with evil-doers does not inspire confidence. You get the sense he's only winning because the script has it that way. Heck, I wonder what action sequences were rejiggered or scrapped because they knew we'd never believe it was really Ford doing them.

You can't fault a guy for getting old, of course. I think I'll probably always like Harrison Ford, regardless of what he does. It's just too bad he wasted those years doing irrelevant piffle when he could have been doing -- well, this is still piffle. But at least it's the right kind of piffle.

Grade: C+

Rated PG-13, one F-word, scattered other profanity, a few strongly violent moments

1 hr., 45 min.

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