by Scott Mantz

Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany,
Virginia Madsen
Directed by Richard Loncraine

Some like it hot! Harrison Ford saves the day in “Firewall”

Back in the 80’s and for the better part of the 90’s, the prospect of seeing Harrison Ford’s name above the title of a movie meant something.  Actually, it meant a lot of things.  But most importantly, it meant that moviegoers were in for a tight, thrilling and extremely entertaining crowd-pleaser that featured one of the world’s most bankable stars at the top of his game.

But if Ford’s latest thriller, “Firewall,” is any indication, then those days are long gone.  In what was supposed to be his heroic return to form after two back-to-back disappointments – 2002’s “K-19: The Widowmaker” and 2003’s “Hollywood Homicide” – the artist formerly known as Indiana Jones, Han Solo and Jack Ryan looks depressingly out of his element in the genre that he helped define.  Of course, it doesn’t help that the film itself is rather lame, thanks to a series of derivative story elements, contrived coincidences and an 11th hour plot twist that’s way too funny for all the wrong reasons.

Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a top-ranking security specialist for a Seattle-based bank who has it all – a beautiful wife (Virginia Madsen), two young children and a posh oceanfront house.  But Jack’s perfect life spirals out of control when he meets Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), a ruthless thief who breaks into his home and holds his family hostage.  His plan: to force Jack into stealing $100 million from his own bank by infiltrating the anti-theft security systems that he helped design.  Jack doesn’t have a choice, nor does he have much time to accomplish this impossible task, but he must do so while finding a way to save his family and beat his captor at his own game.

After a mildly engaging setup that bears more than a passing resemblance to the classic 1955 Humphrey Bogart thriller “The Desperate Hours,” “Firewall” devolves into a sub-standard “Fugitive”-style wannabe that becomes increasingly far-fetched as it progresses.  It doesn’t help that a lot of the action takes place behind a computer, which, quite frankly, is kind of boring.  But various subplots regarding blackmail and betrayal are merely touched upon without being fully developed, and there’s a key moment in the final act involving the family dog that’s just too ridiculous to be believed.

But perhaps the biggest problem lies with Ford himself.  Yes, we all know that he’s old – 63 to be exact – but “Firewall” is glaring proof that he’s too old to be making movies like this.  And it isn’t just that he looks old – he sounds old too.  There are times where he’s so soft-spoken that it’s hard to hear what he’s saying, and even when his character is in a dire moment of peril, he’s still a far cry from the commanding action hero of his heyday.

As for the supporting cast, Paul Bettany, who re-teams with his “Wimbledon” director Richard Loncraine, evokes some menace as Ford’s captor.  But after experiencing a resurgence in her career after her terrific, Oscar-nominated turn in 2004’s “Sideways,” Virginia Madsen seems all but wasted here as Ford’s grieving, supportive wife.

A lot of the publicity surrounding this movie has centered on Ford’s desire to dust off the old whip and fedora for a fourth installment of the “Indiana Jones” franchise.  But if anything, “Firewall” is further proof that maybe it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking Ford because he’s getting old.  But where his big screen career is concerned, he needs to age more gracefully if his name above the title is going to mean something again.