"Firewall" begins slowly, exhibits hints of promise in the middle and then descends into silliness. Harrison Ford has the whole "Not with my family, you don't" Everyman routine down to a science, but the improbable twists begin piling up before the star finally goes commando.

At its core a high-tech, wi-fi version of “The Desperate Hours,” “Firewall” begins slowly, exhibits hints of promise in the middle and then descends into silliness. Harrison Ford has the whole “Not with my family, you don’t” Everyman routine down to a science, but the improbable twists begin piling up before the star finally goes commando. Beyond Paul Bettany’s suave villain, there’s not much to distinguish what amounts to an old-fashioned “B” picture, except perhaps its unusually overwrought score. Box office prospects look so-so on a pic that has “rental” written all over it.

Ford has aged gracefully into roles where he’s the caring dad, CIA analyst or president who has to save his family, country or plane. Still, this is clearly on the lighter end of that spectrum, both in terms of stakes and believability factor.

As Jack Stanfield, Ford has an idyllic life, with a pretty, accomplished wife (Virginia Madsen) and two squabbling kids (Carly Schroeder, Jimmy Bennett). All that is quickly upended, however, when a team of gunmen invades the house.

The group’s leader, Bill Cox (Bettany), has been tracking Stanfield’s movements as head of network security for a Seattle bank. Cox plans to take Stanfield’s family hostage and compel the patriarch to transfer millions into an offshore account. And while Jack’s impulse is to rebel, Cox’s elaborate setup includes all kinds of surveillance equipment to monitor his every move.

Thus begins the game of cat and mouse, forcing Jack to behave strangely around his assistant (“24’s” Mary Lynn Rajskub), another security expert (Robert Patrick) and colleague Harry (Robert Forster). Yet given Cox’s ruthlessness, cooperation can go only so far, leading to an inevitable (if protracted) showdown.

Director Richard Loncraine and writer Joe Forte (marking his first produced screenplay) try to keep the action moving, but they do so at best in fits and starts. Things drag as Cox establishes his scheme, then segue into caper mode as the gunmen figure out how to pull off the robbery, before a last act filled with too-coincidental moments and a few outright laughable ones, including a bit involving the family dog.

Bettany manages to instill his role with a cerebral sense of menace, while Ford essentially draws on a reservoir of good will to bring humanity to Jack as he lurches from one crisis to the next. Madsen, alas, isn’t given much to do, other than to make a few thin attempts at coaxing the co-conspirators to set her and the children free.

Despite its preoccupation with technology, “Firewall” really wants to be about heart — about an average guy rising to the challenge in order to protect his family. While Ford can achieve that posture in his sleep, he’s left to do so in a vehicle that the average filmgoer will be more eager to hack out of than into.

Firewall

Production

A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Village Roadshow Pictures of a Beacon Pictures/Jon Shestack/Thunder Road production. Produced by Armyan Bernstein, Jonathan Shestack, Basil Iwanyk. Executive producers, Brent O'Connor, Charlie Lyons, Dana Goldberg, Bruce Berman. Co-producer, Tobin Armbrust. Directed by Richard Loncraine. Screenplay, Joe Forte.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Marco Pontecorvo; editor, Jim Page; music, Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Brian Morris; art director, Helen Jarvis; set decorator, Johanne Hubert; costume designer, Shuna Harwood; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital/SDDS), Patrick Ramsay; supervising sound editor, Richard King; visual effects supervisor, Angus Bickerton; assistant director, Richard Whelan; casting, Mary Gail Artz, Coreen Mayrs. Reviewed at Warner Bros. studios, Burbank, Feb. 1, 2006. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Jack Stanfield - Harrison Ford Bill Cox - Paul Bettany Beth Stanfield - Virginia Madsen Janet Stone - Mary Lynn Rajskub Gary Mitchell - Robert Patrick Harry Romano - Robert Forster Arlin Forester - Alan Arkin Sarah Stanfield - Carly Schroeder Andy Stanfield - Jimmy Bennett

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