[Author's Note: Andrew Sarris once ended a review of the Russell Crowe-Meg Ryan kidnap drama Proof of Life by telling his readers, "See it. It's better than you've heard." I felt the same way about two mostly maligned Hollywood movies that opened this month, Firewall and The Pink Panther. A review of both movies follows, somewhat expanded from the version that appeared in the last issue of New York Press.]
Firewall and The Pink Panther pose the same problem for critics: how to resist writing knee-jerk pans of movies that look an awful lot like Hollywood Product, and that star aging icons who haven't connected with audiences in years?
On paper, both films seem like tempting targets. The kidnap thriller Firewall expects us to believe that 63-year old Harrison Ford, arguably the most underachieving A-list star in the history of American movies, and very much an emblem of mid-twentieth-century macho, is believable as an early 21st-century computer security expert and a settled-yet-virile husband to Virginia Madsen, who's 20 years his junior. Added to that, Firewall is yet another example of what I call a Business Class Thriller, tailor made to engross upper-middle-class dads who spend lots of time on airplanes. The hero is usually, and not at all coincidentally, a married forty or fiftysomething suburban dad who spends most of his time filing paperwork but can still kick ass when the occasion warrants, a role tailored for Harrison Ford. The Pink Panther, meanwhile, asks us not just to accept an actor besides Peter Sellers in the role of bumbling French inspector Jacques Clouseau, but to believe that star Steve Martin, whose career took a sharp left turn into New Yorker country about 15 years ago, can still work magic in the type of deranged slapstick romp that hasn't been central to his career since the early '90s. Both films seem like the sorts of films for which critics can start composing their pans en route to the screening room.
But there's a problem with this stock response: both Firewall and The Pink Panther are entertaining, well crafted, somewhat eccentric Hollywood movies.