Firewall

Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford), a security specialist for the fictitious Seattle-based Landrock Pacific Bank, is about to find out he is really a button-down-collar Charles Bronson seeing red. Jack’s wife Beth (Virginia Madsen) is a successful architect; she designed the multimillion-dollar suburban mansion the Stanfields live in on Puget Sound. Jack proudly drives a Cadillac down Seattle streets, across endless Washington rain showers and in and out of their private-gated and heavily electronically-monitored, fortress-like home. Jack and Beth have two children, 13-year-old Sarah (Carly Schroder) and 8-year-old Andrew (Jimmy Bennett), and a family dog. Andrew is the one with a lethal allergy to peanuts. (This weakness will be exploited–too often–to scare him, his parents, and the hapless audience.)

Writer Joe Forte and director Richard Loncraine have concocted a complete mess of a tale here. For some odd, unexplained, and unconvincing reason, a brilliantly clever limy bastard, Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), has been spending a very long time ("nearly a year") studying Jack and his family, spying on them by every possible means of electronic surveillance. Cox commandeers Jack to electronically skim millions of dollars from Landrock’s wealthiest customers and transfer the funds into a private off-shore account. He has stolen Stanfield’s information in order to blackmail Jack and, for extra leverage, soon takes the rest of the Stanfield family hostage (including the family dog). Cox is aided by a small band of hired goons who deal with the family hostage-taking. This is clever foresight, for in no time Cox is bogged down in some overly wrought cat-and-mouse games with Jack. Identity theft is but the appetizer of Cox’s wily wickedness, an elaborate cover for what is, really, just an old-fashioned bank heist in a digital environment.

As Bill Cox, Paul Bettany serves to put another Hollywood cliche through its paces. In his first scene, Cox speaks like a normal, upper-middle-class, all-round American businessman. As soon as he drops out of earshot of strangers, he switches to his "native" British accent and emerges as a kind of higher-class Anthony Hopkins-as-Hannibal Lector, villainy painted in broad, xenophobic strokes. (Why would anyone this brilliant bother with such an elaborate, Rube-Goldberg-in-the 21st-century plan to rob a small-time bank?)

Cox’s henchmen put in a lot more screen time than the other secondary characters, the ones who represent the corporate world of traditional American family values. Among the latter (in essentially interchangeable walk-on parts) are Robert Patrick (who plays Gary Mitchell, Accuwest Bank executive and Jack’s potential rival), Alan Arkin (Jack’s ´┐Żber-boss and Landrock’s CEO), and Robert Forster (Jack’s friend and colleague Harry, who spends as much time on-screen dead as alive). Along the way, lots of pricey, high-tech toys get blown up, smashed, torched, or otherwise busted.

One of the few acting bright spots here is Mary Rajskub (Chloe on TV’s 24), who plays Jack’s secretary Janet. Janet is such a perfect secretary and ersatz family retainer that even after she has been fired without notice, she comes to the family’s rescue. Janet even surrenders her decrepit old car to Jack, only to watch it be sacrificed, in order to help save Jack, his wife, the kids, and even the dog.

Firewall is just another indistinguishable film on a long and still growing list of Harrison Ford thrillers. Very close to an earlier vehicle (Air Force One), the movieis overwritten, crammed full of cliched plot twists, and top-heavy with electronic gadgets and yuppie bling. (There is so much product placement here, the film could be identified as a series of commercial advertisements.) The actors breeze through their scenes, scarcely taking notice of their surroundings, the inanity of the script, or the incongruencies in plot. Mostly, it feels like they are running through one more performance to collect a bonus check on the way to the union hall to look for a real job.

Firewall is clearly intended to be a bit of mindless entertainment, to tug a few Sally Field-style heartstrings along the way, and to make lots and lots of quick money for Harrison Ford, the Brothers Warner, and their advertising sponsors. Taken as such, it will kill a couple of hours and probably cause no physical harm to the viewer. All others may wish to check their brain at the concession stand.

Les Wright