Computer-security specialist Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) looks disgusted much earlier than necessary in Firewall. Here’s a guy who’s got a smart, beautiful architect wife (Virginia Madsen), two smart, beautiful kids, and a smart, beautiful house in an oceanfront community near his big-cheese office at a Seattle-based bank. Would it kill him to smile? Later in the day, our hero will be called upon to save his family, held hostage by a sophisticated nutjob (Paul Bettany) who wants him to hack into the bank’s computers and electronically fork over $100 million. But in the innocent moments of breakfast on a new Pacific Northwest morning (Vancouver stands in for Seattle), could he maybe admit that life is pretty sweet in his elite percentile? That Jack winces with disgust 24/7 in this hopelessly lousy white-collar high-tech thriller, like a man whose great burden is to be surrounded by people never quite as intelligent as he is, suggests two things, neither of them encouraging, about the forgettable Firewall. The first is that the gremlins who cobbled together this exhausted genre pic really never cared who Jack is and why the character has got a bug up his butt as long as the producers secured their product-placement deals (with great fanfare, for instance, an iPod is used to confound the evildoers). The second is that Ford himself, in late middle age, seems bored stiff playing taciturn Harrison Ford-type heroes, with their suits and their gravitas, their honor and their tired old sprees of derring-do, and he jumps through his hoops projecting a lethal combination of wounded feelings and star peevishness.
Either way, it’s the audience who loses. There’s no need to linger on the widget particulars of this variation on a theme of foiling the bad guys and saving the family (including the sacred family dog, whose GlobalPetFinder collar, trackable by GPS, is used with even greater fanfare to thwart the wicked); if you feel like you’ve seen it before, it’s because you have — action heroes beating the crap out of people in the pious name of protecting their loved ones. The point is, the bad guys, led by Bettany’s Bill Cox — a slick, murdering psychopath who, to amuse the actor, employs a binary code of American and English accents — demonstrate how thoroughly they have hacked into the Stanfields’ lives. And Jack demonstrates how he can one-up them, calling, in the 11th hour, for the assistance of his indispensable, computer-savvy assistant, Chloe — I mean Janet, played by Mary Lynn Rajskub as a clone of her Chloe self on 24. This is a man, by the way, who can ”put in an IPS signature that blackholes the pattern” (or something) in seconds. No wonder Janet worships him — as (all too blindly) does screenwriter Joe Forte, churning out pages of jargon in his first produced film.
On the home front, in the jargon of mothers, Jack’s wife, Beth, defends her brood against the menacing goons in her house, and her level of eloquence goes like this: ”Don’t you ever touch my children again, do you hear me?” (Yes, we do, and worry about Madsen being associated with junk so soon after the Oscar-nominated triumph of Sideways.) Meanwhile, with the plot’s operating system in default mode, the thing comes to a manufactured climax with a violent hand-to-hand struggle between Jack and Bill — a long, ornately brutal fight that takes unnecessary glee in the punches, left over from thriller days before scenes of computer-file downloading counted as action.
Director Richard Loncraine is a Brit who has handled the dark materials of Dennis Potter’s jolting Brimstone & Treacle in the past, but has more recently been associated with the sunshiny love match of Bettany and Kirsten Dunst in Wimbledon. Was he cowed, too, by the sneer on Ford’s face? Firewall is a witless entertainment, and a derivative one, too; it’s everything listless about Hollywood in February, everything discardable about the genre in general. But damn it, this piece of ”product” does promise movie star Harrison Ford, and includes (i.e., squanders) the participation of Robert Patrick (his evil is in his ears), Robert Forster (his evil is in his hair), and Alan Arkin (his eccentricity is in his character’s bow tie), all three appearing briefly as bank executives.
Such a product ought to be better. It ought to be tolerable. Did no one say, ”Hey, Harrison, you might as well have some fun”? Or was everyone glumly watching despair breach the security firewall that separates his star persona from the character he plays?