"Ask yourself:
'What would Jack Bauer do?'"

© 2006, Warner Bros. Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Computer security specialist Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) works meticulously to make sure Landrock Pacific Bank can fend off any hackers. When a resourceful criminal, Bill Cox (Paul Bettany, "A Beautiful Mind"), and his team of goons break into Jack's home and take his family (including Virginia Madsen) hostage, they force Jack to mastermind a bank heist through his considerable technological skills. Looking to protect his brood, Jack cooperates the best he can, but when Bill starts to push his luck, Jack makes a choice to fight back.

"Firewall" (IMDb listing) is an even-tempered thriller following a very common guide rail that's been in place in cinema for decades. Judging from his past work, Harrison Ford loves to make these films; passing himself off as a traditional blue-collar hero, and bringing a little old fashioned machismo back into theaters. It's impossible to deny Ford when he's this focused, and his tightly wound performance carries "Firewall" when the screenplay and direction have no idea where to go.

Of course, the film is one long exercise in suspension-of-disbelief. Right from the start, the idea of Harrison Ford as a keyboard Gandalf takes some swallowing, if only because he has that drowsy look in his eye that makes it seem like simply peeling an orange might be a half-day adventure for him. To witness Ford tossing around encryptions as casually as opening a beer takes some getting used to, but that's only the start of the problems. "Firewall" is not a film for viewers who demand concepts like "logic" or "consistency" in their thrillers, and I strongly suggest those inclined to nit-pick seek out other entertainment.

For those who enjoy big dumb fun every now and again to clear out the senses, "Firewall" offers some terrific entertainment in the moments before it begins to confuse itself. With his constipated vocal purr, Ford is fantastic as Jack, playing up the character's reluctance to go along with the baddies, and his general klutzy fear, seen in two moments where Jack trips and falls in his hurry to save the day. When was the last time you saw an action hero do that? The film opens as a simple hostage story, and a persuasive one at that. While not the ideal Hans Gruber of the film, Paul Bettany does get out some forceful moments as the ringleader of the domestic violence, coolly egging on Jack as his plan slowly unravels. The first hour of "Firewall" is devoted to traditional thriller trappings, and the material hums nicely when the thrills are kept reasonable and the technobabble is sent to a corner for a time out.

The second half of the picture veers more toward awkward "Fugitive" territory, and subsequently drops any sense of goofy adventure the film appeared to be enjoying. For the last act, director Richard Loncraine ("Wimbledon") feels the compulsion to start actually trying to tie the strings of the plot together, which turns a once light and involving movie into an overtly expository one, with Ford spending long takes trying to describe what his character is thinking. For all their efforts, I'm sure the production eventually made some sense out of the plot. But spending so much time showing their work to the audience takes the steam out of the crucial momentum "Firewall" needed to be building by this point.

Loncraine redeems himself slightly with some rousing, brutal fight choreography for the film's climax, returning the film to the base sensibilities it's most confident with. "Firewall" is formula, but for the most part, it's formula with a little more oomph than normal. And it's a great return to the punch-first, ask-questions-later roles Harrison Ford has been away from for far too long.

Filmfodder Grade: B

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