By Bruce Newman
Feb. 08, 2006
If you think your family is dysfunctional, consider the fate of the
perpetually imperiled screen tribe of Harrison Ford: wife kidnapped
(1988); wife and daughter abducted (1992); wife murdered (1993); wife
and daughter taken hostage (1997); wife killed in plane crash (1999).
Ford is the big daddy of domestic disaster, a Swiffer mop of calamity.
``Firewall'' is Ford's latest excavation of the family-in-peril
thriller, and it is a mostly rote attempt to reboot ``The Desperate
Hours'' -- the taut psychological standoff between Humphrey Bogart and
Fredric March from 1955 -- for the computer age. Instead of dramatic
tension, ``Firewall'' makes do with a lot of frantic typing at
computer keyboards. It's like watching Microsoft's Service Pack 2
download for nearly two hours.
This time, Ford plays Jack Stanfield, the designer of an impenetrable
computer firewall that protects the Seattle bank where he is a trusted
and beloved figure. But that all changes when super-hacker Bill Cox
(played by Paul Bettany) sends his team of hench-geeks bursting into
Jack's home -- laptops drawn -- to take his wife (Virginia Madsen) and
two children hostage. Cox has figured out that the back door through
which he can slip past the bank's security system is Jack himself.
You don't go to a Harrison Ford movie expecting gritty realism, but
even by the lowered standards of the modern thriller, what finally
causes ``Firewall'' to collapse is a series of increasingly improbable
plot twists. The most laughable of these can't be discussed without
revealing the movie's climax, but it is accompanied by what is sure to
be one of the year's funniest lines (though not intentionally):
``Where are they, Rusty?'' Jack asks the family schnauzer, completely
serious. ``Where have they gone?''
This comes shortly after he uses his daughter's iPod to hotwire the
bank's servers, moving $100 million to Cox's offshore account, while
downloading Sharon Stone's Celebrity Playlist from iTunes. (OK, he
doesn't really get the playlist, just the $100 million.) Cox is one of
those suave, arrogant, ill-tempered, blond British bad guys, and
Bettany plays him as if he had been stamped from a cookie cutter --
he's Jeremy Irons 2.0.
Cox is supposed to be ruthless, willing to stop at nothing to get his
loot. But when Jack makes a couple of lame attempts to outwit him
early in the movie, Cox is strangely indulgent of his prize pawn. And
when Jack's family does something that infuriates him, Cox gives them
a cold-blooded demonstration of what will happen if they get out of
line again by cruelly executing one of his own men.
This is so inexplicable and bizarre that it reminded me of the famous
scene in ``Blazing Saddles'' when the town's black sheriff takes
himself hostage. Trying to convince a mob of hostile white people to
drop the guns they have pointed at him, he points his own gun at his
head and threatens to blow it off, then pleads for mercy from himself.
In ``Blazing Saddles,'' this disarms both the town's nitwits and the
audience. In ``Firewall,'' it just seems like the movie is too
weak-kneed to kill a hostage, even though that's the only leverage Cox
Eventually, Jack goes on the run with his secretary Janet, who
monitors a laptop computer to give him satellite updates on the
whereabouts of his family. This would be preposterous enough, even if
Janet weren't played by Mary Lynn Rajskub, the potato-faced actress
who plays Chloe on ``24,'' where she is the loopy girl Friday to
another Jack. By the time Jack Stanfield drives Janet's car toward the
picture's climactic fight scene, the story has become so convoluted
that the two of them have a thudding conversation covering all the
important plot twists to make sure everyone is completely caught up.
I won't spoil the ending, even though anyone who has followed Ford's
career -- and how could you miss it? -- has seen it before. One nice
touch: Cox continues to demonstrate what could happen to Jack's family
by helpfully killing off his own henchmen. By the time he and Jack
meet, the only remaining question is whether he will take himself
Rated PG-13 (some intense sequences of violence)
Cast Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen, Robert Patrick,
Mary Lynn Rajskub
Director Richard Loncraine
Writer Joe Forte
Running time 1 hour, 45 minutes
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