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"FIREWALL"
(2006) (Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Suspense/Thriller: After a group of high-tech bank robbers takes his family hostage, a security expert must figure out how to save them while outwitting the villains.
PLOT:
Jack Stanfield (HARRISON FORD) is a well-respected security expert at a Seattle-based bank who, along with his bosses Harry Romano (ROBERT FORSTER) and Arlin Forester (ALAN ARKIN), is helping his institution prepare for its takeover by another bank. That merger is being run by the steely Gary Mitchell (ROBERT PATRICK).

When Jack's day starts with helping his assistant, Janet Stone (MARY LYNN RAJSKUB), deal with a coworker who's enamored with her, as well as a visit by a debt collector who seems to have the wrong man, Jack isn't ready for what next occurs. And that's because a businessman he's just met, Bill Cox (PAUL BETTANY), is really the ringleader of a group of high tech bank robbers. Not only does Bill take Jack hostage, but his minions -- Vel (KETT TURTON), Liam (NIKOLAJ COSTER WALDAU), Pim (VINCE VIELUF) and Willy (VINCENT GALE) -- have also done the same to Jack's architect wife Beth (VIRGINIA MADSEN) and their kids, teenager Sarah (CARLY SCHROEDER) and her younger brother Andy (JIMMY BENNETT).

Reuniting the family at their home, Bill informs Jack that as long as he helps them with their heist, they won't hurt his family. Accordingly, Jack must return to work -- wired and watched so that he doesn't try to alert anyone -- and then figure out how to outwit Bill, his team and their seemingly perfect plan.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
In a perfect world, movies would be viewed and reviewed in a cinematic vacuum. That is, they should come off as the only film ever made and for which any judgments -- comparing them to other films, particularly within their genre or ones in which their stars previously appeared -- do not exist. Alas, and despite the fact that some films can make you get lost in the moment, that non-comparative world does not exist, no matter how hard critics might try to fabricate it.

All of which brings us to "Firewall," a mediocre thriller starring Harrison Ford that simply can't help but elicit two central thoughts. The first -- centered on the plot -- is that no matter how much filmmakers might try, you simply can't top the brilliance of "Die Hard" when it comes to the "battle terrorists on a domestic front" action genre.

Both feature men trying to protect their families ("DH" being less direct and more subtle about that) from terrorists who are essentially staging a high tech robbery. Of course, in the previous film, the protagonist was an unexpected foil while here he's an essential part of the plan, but both are elaborate in terms of the criminals' detailed plans and the heroes' attempts to defeat them.

Even so, and like many films that came after that 1988 trendsetter, this one simply can't match it in terms of plot, characters, action or suspense (the fact that John McTiernan directed it and a younger Bruce Willis starred in it certainly didn't hurt matters). Directly related to that latter point, the second comparison this film can't escape regards Ford and his battling against the image of a younger, former self (at least as appearing on the screen).

Plastic surgery and chemicals aside, aging is an inevitable part of being a star, but some thankfully don't seem to care (or at least they accept it). The former headliner of the "Indiana Jones" and the original "Star Wars" pictures seems to be one of them, following in the footsteps of Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood in terms of letting Mother Nature do her thing.

That's not to say any of them have aged ungracefully, but rather that they have a rugged and well-worn handsomeness about them. While that's natural, the result is that Ford's character looks too old for the part (who knows how they're going to deal with that if the fourth "Indy" film ever comes to fruition).

Some may argue that's part of the point, much like Eastwood's character similarly seeming old and getting winded working as a Secret Service agent during "In the Line of Fire." The thing is, that's never officially touched upon here, resulting in Jack seeming too old for both his family (that includes Virginia Madsen in the old Anne Archer role) and the various stunts and other physical work he must complete. The end result is something akin to older middle-aged men dyeing their hair, wearing Speedos and trying to keep up with the younger crowd.

In short, it isn't a pretty sight and no one is fooled by the attempt, especially since Ford once made a name for himself playing action characters who weren't perfect and often got roughed up (thus giving them something of a lovable, scruffy charm). Here, it's as if he's refusing to play that game anymore and the whole thing feels a tad desperate.

Of course, that should go hand-in-hand with the plot (although I'm not sure how Ford's seemingly one facial expression -- that ranges from alarmed to concerned to mad emotional constipation -- is supposed to help such matters). The filmmakers -- screenwriter Joe Forte and director Richard Loncraine -- initially seem to have dotted all their Is and crossed all their Ts in terms of delivering a tightly woven script where the villains seem to have thought of everything. But things then loosen up and spiral out of control too much for the ending to hold together (which is when most of the aforementioned action takes place).

Some of those scenes are decently staged, but some of the ways Jack figures out things (particularly one scene featuring the family dog that's inexplicably brought along by the kidnappers until we learn the big, important reason for that) simply come out of nowhere and feel far too fabricated. Speaking of the kidnappers, Paul Bettany is present trying to do the smooth and suave criminal thing that Alan Rickman nailed in "Die Hard." While he's more than competent playing the part, it simply feels like a pale imitation.

At 63 years of age, perhaps it's time for Ford to forgo the action hero bit (after all, it's not as if he hasn't done enough of those films already) and move on to more refined parts. While he and his fans might be reluctant for that next step to occur, it's only inevitable, much like the comeuppance this film's villains will obviously face. "Firewall" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed January 23, 2006 / Posted February 10, 2006


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