Ford is good, but ‘Firewall’ is another predictable thriller |

Ford is good, but ‘Firewall’ is another predictable thriller

Bill Cox (Paul Bettany, left) kidnaps bank security expert Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) in "Firewall."

See if the following movie sounds familiar. Harrison Ford’s character is a man in charge forced to follow his captors/terrorists’ demands or else his family gets it. He scowls throughout said movie, at first pleading to his captors, “I can’t do that,” until the bad guys insist that they’re not kidding. “Do what we demand or your family is dead.” If you answered “Air Force One,” you were very close.

This time Ford’s on the ground, and he’s not the president. The answer is the high-tech thriller “Firewall,” but you get the idea. The situation and plotline are both familiar and predictable. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Ford is convincing enough, given the material he has to work with (from a script by Joe Forte). However, when you stack it up with the aforementioned “Air Force One” or, even better, 1993’s “The Fugitive” (his last great movie), you feel a little let down watching his latest venture. Ford has aged gracefully into roles where he plays a kick-ass president (Bill Clinton was quoted saying that he wished he could have been more like Ford during his administration after watching “Air Force One”), a CIA analyst or a caring dad who has to save his family.

This time around Ford plays bank security specialist Jack Stanfield, who has created the perfect anti-theft system complete with a time-lock vault that no one can break into. Of course, once you hijack someone’s family at their home, where the same system should have been installed, the bad guys get the upper hand. In other words, no matter how high-tech a gadget is, once the human is factored in, there really is no foolproof way to protect anything. Maybe in the future, only those with no family ties should be allowed to invent such gadgets, so that bad guys can’t just waltz in and get what they want.

After her Oscar-nominated role in 2004’s “Sideways,” Virginia Madsen is almost a throwaway here playing the role of Mrs. Stanfield. Maybe she just wanted the opportunity to work with Harrison? At any rate, she could have been better utilized, I feel. The kids in “Firewall” (Jimmy Bennett, Carly Schroeder) are pretty much just chess pieces used as pawns by the men of evil to play out their predictable game here.

Even the leader of these gunmen of mass destruction, Bill Cox (played by British actor Paul Bettany), seems to have watched other baddies played by Gary Oldman and John Malkovich to figure out what it was that they did to get what they wanted. Have you noticed a trend lately where the villains look more like part-time models on the side? Maybe it’s a trend to give bad guys a softer image – who knows? I so wanted to see that other hostage movie starring Bruce Willis, “Hostage,” playing on the television as Bill and company barged into Jack’s house. That would have been funny and given the movie a little something extra.

That’s one of the things missing in this movie: wry humor. When you have familiar territory that is being covered in a dramatic movie, sometimes the one saving grace is the unexpected infusion of a little life into an already well-worn subject. Ron Howard’s “Ransom,” which also used a family member as a bargaining chip, had a few scenes in which the victim turned the tables and forced the bad guy (in that case played by Gary Sinise) to re-think his options.

British Director Richard Loncraine (“Richard III”) could have taken a cue or two from those other directors who have covered this type of drama more successfully, instead of being a bit drab at times. There were a few bright spots in the supporting cast, including Jack’s assistant, Janet Stone (“24’s” Mary Lynn Rajskub), fellow security expert Gary Mitchell (Robert Patrick) and colleague Harry Romano (Robert Forster).

Still, I like watching Ford and how he gets himself out of impossible situations even when the odds are overwhelming. Even though this isn’t one of his best works, it’s still thrilling and at times entertaining to watch, and maybe that’s enough. You decide.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8 and weekends on KMTN television here in South Lake Tahoe.

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