Harrison Ford runs smack into a Firewall, poor guy.

A beleaguered Harrison Ford, looking for the way out.
A beleaguered Harrison Ford, looking for the way out.
It is often written of Harrison Ford that he's the most profitable movie star in history, to the tune of some $3.8 billion in box-office receipts worldwide. Of course, once one subtracts from that total the first three Star Wars movies, the Indiana Jones trilogy, and two outings as C.I.A. agent Jack Ryan, not to mention such B-rated hits as Working Girl and Air Force One, that number diminishes significantly -- and so does the quality of the filmmaking. There are the occasional detours into interesting territory -- his movies with Peter Weir, say, or early exercises with Francis Ford Coppola -- but the franchise player seems more content to retrace footsteps laid down on the road well-traveled. For every Mosquito Coast or Blade Runner, there are too many Random Hearts or Six Days Seven Nights -- ill-conceived and poorly executed concepts that strand him with nothing to do except stare at the camera like an intruder caught trying to jimmy open the ATM after dark.

So estimable is Ford's star power that it's almost painful to see him wasted in shabby parts in meaningless movies; Han Solo deserves better. It's astounding to find so many ordinary movies on his résumé, because we take it for granted that he's better than that. To see him meander through a movie like Firewall, yet another vacant film in which he plays a regular guy in a tie who must maim and murder in order to save his family, is to watch a movie star act too ordinary. We don't buy it, because he doesn't seem to; the hero seems to be boring himself, having to do this thing one more goddamned time.

Firewall may well be the most dreary thing Ford has ever done; even its title hits the ear with a dull thud. (Would that it came with anti-virus software, which would at least render it practical.) It plays like a cheap amalgam of movies he's already made, chief among them Roman Polanski's Frantic, in which he scurried about the streets of Paris in search of the wife snatched from his hotel room, and Andrew Davis' The Fugitive, in which he scurried about the streets of Chicago in search of the killer who framed him for his wife's murder. Here, he scurries about the streets of Seattle (and its hilly, lakeside climes) to find his kidnapped family and the killer who framed him for his partner's murder. Firewall will sit nicely on the "F" shelf at Blockbuster alongside its predecessors -- the "F" standing for "formula."

But those things happen later in the movie. First, there is the larger story that finds Ford, playing a bank security expert named Jack Stanfield, having to empty his employer's vaults of some $100 million, lest bad guy Cox (Paul Bettany) kill Jack's wife (Virginia Madsen) and two children. Cox's plan is strictly hackwork too: He wants Jack to tap into the computers, find the accounts of the richest clients, and steal from them $10,000 each -- amounts they will never even miss, so large are their bottom lines. It's reminiscent of the dastardly plot hatched by Richard Pryor in Superman III, later appropriated and mocked in Office Space. One pities the movie that takes seriously a storyline already rendered punch line by various predecessors.

Ford is not the only one wasted here. Bettany, all straight-faced sneers and it's-just-business snarls, and Madsen, who set her poor career Sideways after too many parts like this, will forget all about this movie once they chat it up at their requisite Tonight Show appearances. Robert Forster and Alan Arkin, the cagey vets loaning their credibility to a film in need of more than their combined forces can offer, probably have forgotten it already. Even director Richard Loncraine can do better, but hasn't lately. After making the creepy, Bizarro World Richard III with Ian McKellen in 1995, he has turned out such mediocrities as 2004's Wimbledon with Bettany, who clearly learned nothing from that experience.

The participants deserve no grudge for Firewall's existence; perhaps on paper it read like something gripping and au courant, this thriller about breaching servers and downloading code onto iPods, and other things involving Harrison Ford mumbling techno gobbledygook. It ought to play to the 12-year-old nerd; it certainly sounds like one wrote it. But its execution is stultifying, laughable, and ultimately a little offensive -- especially the scene in which Bettany tries to kill Ford's kid with a cookie made with peanuts; nothing screams laziness in a screenplay like the attempted murder of a child to garner our sympathies, which Firewall so clearly doesn't deserve.

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