Having once vehemently ordered Russian hijackers to “Get off my plane!,” Harrison Ford can’t even get a few techie terrorists out of his living room in Firewall, suffering one indignity after another as the criminal squatters smack around his wife (Virginia Madsen), give his allergic son some deadly peanut butter cookies, and generally reduce him to a sniveling, submissive wimp. It’s an emasculating situation for an emasculating thriller, one that shrivels the former (and, hopefully, not future) Indiana Jones’s rugged everyman persona to a pathetic husk of his previously formidable self via a mundane heist-and-hostage narrative. Such a fate isn’t very surprising considering that Ford’s latest is helmed by Richard Loncraine, a director whose action pedigree doesn’t extend beyond the combat-free Wimbledon and HBO’s My House in Umbria. But it’s still depressing to see the star awkwardly shoehorn himself into such an embarrassingly ill-fitting role, in which he simultaneously comes off as too gruffly physical to be a cerebral, computer-savvy bank executive and security systems expert, and yet too geriatric to be a rock ‘em, sock ‘em villain-trouncing avenger.
Character suitability issues aside, Ford has nonetheless taken a significant step down the heroism ladder with Jack Stanfield, a dull, reactive protagonist who spends the bulk of this go-nowhere dud either lamely complying with, or feebly attempting to extricate his family from, his laptop and security camera-equipped captors. This malevolent crew is led by Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), a dapper Brit in the Alan Rickman-Die Hard mold, though any evocations of John McTiernan’s lone-ranger standard-bearer merely call attention to Firewall‘s meager scope and nonexistent swagger. Cox wants to rob the bank where Stanfield works, and sets about forcing the man—through threats to his continually cowering family, who soothe themselves by thinking about happy times on their private boat, The Lark—to carry out MacGyver-esque assignments with iPod hard drives and cellphone cameras. What ensues is lots of wrangling about infiltrating secure networks, cracking encrypted files, and subverting protocols, all hi-tech tasks far more briskly exploited by Fox’s 24, with which it also shares the emphatically weird Mary Lynn Rajskub as do-gooder Jack’s curt, bitchy, scowling sidekick.
Despite staging a promising early boardroom scene featuring Ford, Robert Patrick, Alan Arkin, and Robert Forster (a compelling collection of men’s men the film is wholly incapable of properly utilizing), Loncraine mainly deals in senselessly smeared slow-motion, grainy black-and-white surveillance footage, and disorienting close-ups for a climactic bout of fisticuffs. By the time Ford and Bettany square off at a lakeside cabin constructed solely out of break-away walls, windows, and tables, the filmmaker has long since squandered all opportunities to manufacture any intelligent suspense from his identity theft and homeland security-tinged scenario. But it’s hard to imagine any amount of directorial dexterity or pertinent subtextual commentary salvaging Firewall from the antiquated garbage heap for which it’s destined, since Joe Forte’s screenplay, when not regurgitating tired genre staples (women and children in peril, chase scenes in the rain), partakes in barking-mad plot developments—such as a third-act doozy involving curbside wireless internet service and a convenient GPS-enabled canine collar—that, like the rest of this information age-set claptrap, is for the dogs.