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Fire Bomb

The writing's on the Wall: Ford limps and wheezes through latest action thriller

Figuring we spend February either catching up with Oscar nominees or never leaving home at all, studios use the season to empty their lots of remaindered bringdowns like so many '94 Jettas. As used cars go, the latest and possibly last Harrison Ford thriller, Firewall, is no deal: It runs rough, stalls frequently, smells like the stale sweat of four dozen older movies, and handles like a blind mule. Age has everything to do with it: The post–Die Hard genre is on its last legs, and the movie is as tired in its bones as Ford, who at 63 has crossed the line from robust, no-nonsense manliness to doughy-creepy grumpster. Attempting lighthearted savoir faire is difficult, but desperate action-movie grappling—with his back?—is less than comfortable. Throughout this limping techno-heist rotework, Ford seems irritated to have to work at all at an age when other professionals, with less expensive support teams and alimonies, are eyeing retirement. You feel for him, particularly during the obligatory climactic mano a mano with the sneering, cultured Brit villain (Paul Bettany), from which he emerges (super-spoiler!) with a stoop and hesitant walk you could mistake for signs of osteoarthritis.

Firewall is a smaller-scaled pup tent than Ford is used to, but it strives for an impression of size. Slipping on the Richard Donner dung boots, director Richard Loncraine constructs this by-the-book experience out of everything loathsome about the last quarter-century of Hollywood blockbusters: three-line scenes of character exposition, action sequences shot with the DP rocking the camera on his shoulder, digital smudge–slo-mo, overwritten plot holes, fake hacker chat, whiny kids, helpless wives, faithful dogs. Joe Forte's debut script sets up Ford as a Seattle bank's testy wizard of security, and then invades his sumptuous cliffside home with a team of studly gun-toting hoods, led by Bettany's serpentine mastermind. With his family held hostage, Ford's helpless exec must provide the baddies with access to the bank's mainframe, a scheme that doesn't work for simple logistical reasons, after which our hero is forced to muster a new way, overnight, to infiltrate his own system (MacGyvering an iPod!) and transfer nine figures to offshore accounts.

Ford's career was built upon his stature as besieged über-Dad, and in a way Firewall's scenario is unusually humiliating: He can't even get these punks out of his own house, or stop them from giving the wrong cookies to his nut-allergic son. But search for patriarchy-under-fire subtext in vain; the story comes virtually sex- and violence-free, and Ford's family man is cartoon immaculate. Soon, the Desperate Hours template switches to a Wrong Man run-through, and ends up (never kidding) at the crooks' hideout shack on the sea, where stacked planks wiggle and snap like licorice should you happen to be thrown through them. Even the most blindly resolute of genre devotees will decry the rerun laziness on view when the plot pivots in the last act on a heretofore unmentioned GPS sensor hidden in the family pooch's collar.

Built Ford tough (with Bettany)
photo: Village Roadshow films/Warner Bros. Entertainment
Built Ford tough (with Bettany)

As for Ford, autumn is upon him. We can hope this episode will serve him as a sign that the saggy, dentured gray-power phase of his stardom is not best spent redoing old moneymakers in a girdle à la John Wayne, but rather, like Paul Newman, daring to be proud of his enlarged colon and the hair in his ears.

 
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