‘Firewall’ goes up in flames

When did Harrison Ford become MacGyver?

In Warner Bros. new movie “Firewall,” Harrison Ford takes his iconic tough-guy persona to a ridiculous new level. Ford plays Jack Stanfield, doting husband and father, and senior banking executive. One day Jack thinks he’s meeting with another client, but it turns out to be an elaborate plan orchestrated by Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) to kidnap his family and force Jack to steal millions of dollars from his own bank. Bill and his thugs hold Jack and his family hostage in their own house, controlling virtually everything they do until they get what they want.

The film’s opening sets the stage for all kinds of high-tech schemes and devices, displaying the family’s dependency on technology with everyone playing around with televisions, computers, iPods and remote-controlled cars. The somewhat interesting idea of our culture of technology rapidly disintegrates into standard action-movie mode, and fast.

In fact, too fast. Within 15 minutes, Bill Cox is already pointing a gun in Jack Stanfield’s face and holding him hostage. The action starts without building any kind of character in anyone. Who is Bill Cox? Why is he doing this? Why should we care? Well, because he’s attacking Harrison Ford, of course.

Although the first half of the movie is fairly standard, the last half hour becomes ridiculous. At one point, Harrison Ford is connecting his daughter’s iPod to the scanner from his fax machine to his laptop and hacking into his bank’s security system. The surprises are predictable, and most of the jokes are awkward and don’t work. “Firewall” rarely builds any real tension because of its clich?d plots and acting.

Ford falls into the familiar all-American, everyman routine present in all of his other movies, desperately trying to protect his perfect wife, Beth (Virginia Madsen), and two children. This is all set up in the first five minutes of the movie, with Ford already spouting clich?d lines such as, “I don’t deserve you.” But he does! He cares so much about his wife, his kids, even his dog! He is the perfect foil to the evil, sadistic villains, who are not nearly as scary as they should be.

With his boyish face, Paul Bettany isn’t even remotely frightening, unless you are intimidated by a British accent. Virginia Madsen spends most of the movie screaming and crying, and one wonders why she followed her mature and nuanced performance in “Sideways” with a role like this.

And then there’s Ford, an icon in American cinema. The American Film Institute voted his Indiana Jones character the second-greatest cinematic hero of all time. His gruff, everyman persona and wry sense of humor have catapulted him to a level of stardom that only few have reached.

In a conference call with The Hatchet and other student newspapers, Ford insisted that he has had a variety of roles in many different genres. When asked about his “action-hero” status, Ford said that he is not an action hero, and has never actually done an action movie, but simply thrillers with action in them. Although he may have a point, it is safe to say that Ford has recently fallen into the stereotypical action role that he has played over and over. “Firewall” reminds us that we really pay to go see Harrison Ford, and not his movies.

“Firewall” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.

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