Plushly mounted, and with just enough topical references to seem relevant, Firewall adds one more film title to Harrison Ford's enviable resume. An immensely appealing performer, he's spent the last decade in vehicles that could rarely be described as challenging. Here he plays another variation on Hollywood's favorite role for older actors, a harried husband who's forced into action when his family is threatened.
The setting is Seattle, although any large city would do. Ford is Jack Stanfield, a computer expert happily married to an architect, Beth (Virginia Madsen), and the father of two children, the sullen teen Sarah (Carly Schroeder) and Andy (Jimmy Bennett), a young boy with serious allergies. Jack works at a small bank that's merging with a larger one, and his skill with computers is shown in one or two brief scenes dense with silly jargon.
Jack has an after-work drink with Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), ostensibly a software designer but actually the mastermind of a scheme to steal $100 million from the bank. The first step involves taking Jack's family hostage, which is easily accomplished by Cox's minions. The next is to wire Jack with mikes and cameras and force him to use his computer expertise to perform the crime from his bank office.
One of Firewall's few legitimate pleasures is watching Jack try to outwit Cox while under surveillance. Muttering to himself, scurrying away from acquaintances, he's the image of someone on the verge of a breakdown. Jack receives invaluable help from his secretary Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and other bank workers, then runs into trouble with executives (chiefly played by Robert Forster, Robert Patrick and Alan Arkin). But Firewall ultimately isn't about identity theft or computer fraud or iPod product placements. It isn't even about Jack's wife and kids, who are sketched in so carelessly that they may as well be pictures on a wall. It's about whether Jack can beat up the bad guy.
Getting to that point requires several more shots of computer screens than any film should contain, as well as some remarkably pointless plot twists. Should Jack have to climb over the top of a rainswept apartment building to find out that his friend isn't home? Given so many opportunities, couldn't he leave one note alerting the police? Director Richard Loncraine shows no affinity for the nuts and bolts of constructing thrillers, playing out the script's empty threats and chases at a lethargic pace. As the villain, Paul Bettany (who worked with Loncraine in Wimbledon) lacks the menace his part requires. As always, Ford performs capably, but it's time he tried a serious movie again.