2006firewallMovie review by Greg Carlson

A creaky, tepid, and thoroughly by-the-numbers action exercise with nary an original idea in its lolling head, “Firewall” is like a rerun of Harrison Ford’s non-Indiana Jones, non-Han Solo heroes – the boring ones who wear business suits and bark things like “Get off my plane!” As Jack Stanfield, a computer securities expert who toils for a large Seattle bank, Ford assumes the position as saintly father and husband with a palpable sense of entitlement. Ford can certainly take a beating with commitment and conviction (“Firewall” makes sure to put him through all sorts of bone-crushing paces), but is that all there is?

Director Richard Loncraine, working from a script by Joe Forte, occasionally seems to forget he is helming an action/suspense thriller. An interminable stretch of time is used to set up the story: cool, calculating Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) takes Stanfield’s family hostage in order to force Jack to hack into his own bank’s system and transfer millions of dollars into Cox’s account. Armed not only with a dizzyingly elaborate plan, Cox is abetted by a coterie of steely toughs, ranging from drivers who monitor Jack’s moves to surveillance/programming experts to machine-gun toting muscle.

“Firewall” never rises high enough to earn favorable comparisons to Hitchcock, but the wrong man theme provides a handful of diversions and complications. Despite the dullness of watching people use computers onscreen – an activity that has never been rendered in cinema with anything close to excitement – Jack is placed in several situations where he must use his security skills to fancy up some high-tech keyboarding. In one improbable sequence, Jack rigs a makeshift device out of his home fax machine and his daughter’s iPod. In another, he uses his son’s remote control toy truck to cause interference in the bad guys’ monitoring system.

Sadly, “Firewall” cannot seem to be bothered with the lives of its supporting characters, most of whom fade into stock stereotypes. Virginia Madsen, as Jack’s wife Beth, scolds the home invaders a few times, but never emerges as a flesh and blood person. Needless to say, the role is a far cry from her work in “Sideways.” Robert Forster, Robert Patrick, and Alan Arkin are virtually transparent. Only Mary Lynn Rajskub, who uses frowns and scowls to great effect as Jack’s harried secretary, manages to occasionally look like she is happy to be in the film.

“Firewall” is the kind of action movie where every last bit of exposition telegraphs something that will be recycled later on. The family dog and Jack’s son’s peanut allergy are two of the more obvious entries into this category, and both bits elicit sighs or chuckles, depending on one’s mood. By the time Jack engages Cox in hand-to-hand combat – in an empty house filled with all sorts of building materials that aid in the crashing and smashing – most viewers will be wondering why they are still watching. Ford long ago cornered the market on playing the victimized father who must protect his family, guaranteeing a happy ending in this safe, predictable, and completely unnecessary movie.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 2/13/06.

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