2½ stars (out of four)
"Firewall" poses the question: Is Harrison Ford turning into Kirk Douglas? Along with the steely glower and the clenched-jaw sneer, Ford's action-man arsenal has long included the simmering kettle of rage, masked by that stoical, handsomely creased mug.
In "Firewall," Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a Seattle computer security wonk employed by Landrock Pacific Bank. At one point--it's in the trailer for the movie--Ford confronts chief villain Paul Bettany with the line, "I wanna know why you're doing this--and I wanna know NOW!" His line reading sounds so much like golden-era Kirk, you wonder if the film's about to be overrun by gladiators.
No such luck. This movie, an efficient time-passer at least until the plot starts obsessing over the fate of the family dog, is more into gadgets than people.
Early on in "Firewall" Jack receives a visit at work from a collection agent looking for $95,000 in online gambling debts. Someone has hacked into Jack's identity. Happens every day, says his colleague and pal Harry (Robert Forster). The trouble's just beginning. The bad guys, led by oily sociopath Bettany, need Jack to pull off a $100 million bank heist. Eventually Jack's architect wife (Virginia Madsen) and their two kids are taken hostage at their oceanfront estate.
Screenwriter Joe Forte and director Richard Loncraine clearly have taken notes on many different movies, "The Desperate Hours" chief among them. Most of the film's middle section takes place within the home's electronically sophisticated confines. Grimly complying with his captor's demands, Jack goes about his security business at work, wearing a wire and bearing a fountain pen equipped with a video camera. Then he turns the tables, and Ford's kettle of rage starts bubbling over at regular intervals.
I enjoy techno-toys as much as the next Luddite, but "Firewall" is insatiable. Its plotting involves such items as a dog collar equipped with GPS ("global positioning system," for you late-20th Century types). The Stanfield daughter's iPod doesn't simply make an appearance; it, too, becomes part of the table-turning narrative. When the movie isn't selling you paranoia, it's selling you something else. In fact, if you want to learn more about its vehicular tie-in of choice, simply go to the Web site chrysler.com/firewall, click on "vehicle spotlight" and ogle the new Chrysler 300C, featured prominently in the film. ("Firewall" is unlikely to do for the 300C what the remake of "The Italian Job" did for the Mini Cooper.)
Fresh off her low-key triumph in "Sideways," Madsen--stuck here in a functional role--expends less and less visible energy with each performance and as a result really is getting better and better. She's a movie star and an actress both, and she's so much better than her role in "Firewall," it's a joke.
Though visibly fighting boredom in the early scenes, Ford remains a stalwart screen presence, even in a movie without much distinction. The key difference between an actor like Ford and an actor like Kirk Douglas is this: Douglas could pull off emotional fireworks as well as physical violence, or its incipient threat. Ford is more comfortable, and most effective, in threat mode. He's an Orange Alert movie star if ever there was one.
Directed by Richard Loncraine; written by Joe Forte; cinematography by Marco Pontecorvo; production design by Brian Morris; music by Alexandre Desplat; edited by Jim Page; produced by Armyan Bernstein, Jonathan Shestack and Basil Iwanyk. A Warner Bros. Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:45. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some intense sequences of violence)
Jack Stanfield - Harrison Ford
Bill Cox - Paul Bettany
Beth Stanfield - Virginia Madsen
Janet Stone - Mary Lynn Rajskub
Gary Mitchell - Robert Patrick
Harry Romano - Robert Forster
Arlin Forester - Alan ArkinCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times