Any New Tricks, Old Dog?
In 1990's Presumed Innocent, Harrison Ford portrayed Rusty Sabich, a prosecutor on trial for murdering his mistress. In Firewall he plays Jack Stanfield, chief of network security at a Seattle bank, whose wife and two children are taken hostage by a suave criminal in order to facilitate a robbery. Rusty is the name of the family dog.
It's either a coincidence or a nod to Alan J. Pakula's memorable legal thriller. Either way, the moniker and Ford's presence are the only things these two movies share, which cannot be what the makers of Firewall intended. Incidentally, Rusty the dog has more to do with rescuing the family and the banks' deposits than Rusty the lawyer had with saving his own skin in Presumed Innocent.
That picture was the kind of popular yarn (with a smashing twist) that Ford has been expert in choosing most of his career -- up until the last three or four years. At the risk of endorsing the age discrimination that factors into Hollywood casting decisions, he's getting a bit long in the tooth to be tackling these parts. Turning the tables as Commander-in-Chief aboard Air Force One was semi-plausible, but -- spiky hairdo or not -- he isn't convincing as a well-compensated techie tapping out computer code and improvising cyber workarounds. The makers of Firewall cannot teach this old dog any new tricks.
Moreover, the cursory screenplay has no discernible pattern, such as a Luddite theme, that might help it escape the routine. It's about a dozen key moves short of a killer program, and attention wanes as quickly as rifts develop between the perpetrators. An apparent opportunity to save the movie late is also squandered.
Judging by their lakeside house, which could pass for a junior version of Bill Gates' compound, Jack Stanfield should own, or at least head, the bank. That honor however belongs to the bow-tied CEO, played by Alan Arkin, who has engineered a merger with a Midwest bank. Tensions are high, and in the midst of this merger mania Stanfield and his associate (Robert Forster) are approached by a businessman Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) with an appealing opportunity.
The smooth Cox immediately proves to be a fraud, having had his thugs seize the Stanfields during the meeting. His plan is simple. If Jack doesn't electronically pilfer $100 million from the bank's largest accounts, the wife and kids are kaput. Jack is wired for sound and video before being sent into work to execute the crime. How ruthless is the supercilious villain? He's not above shooting his cohort or exploiting the Stanfield boy's nut allergy to get what he wants. Still, Ford has been in this position too many times and is quite handy with a blender and a fire extinguisher and, it turns out, with a Dell server and an iPod.
Despite the tension the scenario generates by default, it feels like nothing is at stake in Firewall. "Why do you hate us so much?" the Stanfield daughter asks one of the guys guarding her. "I don't hate you, Sarah, I just don't care about you." The same goes for the audience. And no matter how burnished a production or how accomplished the performers, it's difficult to make tapping on a keyboard and staring at computer screens exciting.
Virginia Madsen portrays Jack's architect wife; she designed their home. It's a shame her performance in Sideways hasn't opened up more doors than wife-in-peril roles in mainstream potboilers. Likewise, Mary Lynn Rajskub isn't allowed to stretch as Jack's trusty secretary, and the characters played by Forster and Robert Patrick might as well have been deleted altogether.
The overriding lesson is that Harrison Ford's days as a firewall against criminal misdeeds are over. It's time to retire the character and take a chance outside the Hollywood machine.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for intense sequences of violence.)