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Firewall is a virus of a film. With poor direction, frosty performances and a Catwoman-bad script, its a lumpy, big-studio mess that will probably be considered one of 2006's 10 worst.



As a disposable Harrison Ford vehicle, Firewall is part Hostage, part Catwoman. Physical violence is pervasive, as Ford and his family (including Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen) are taken hostage by a band of thugs. Silver-haired Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a computer-programming expert whose bank account accrues an unexplained $95,000 debt. Before he investigates, a trio of men invade his house and rough up Jack's wife (Madsen), daughter (Carly Schroeder) and son (Jimmy Bennett). At the same time, a businessman (Paul Bettany) shows up at Jack's office, unannounced. A whole bunch of confusing stuff follows, in which Jack must get his family back, keep a low profile, and not tell the police. After extorting $100 million from his company for ransom, Jack tracks the bad guys down by finding the family dog's whereabouts, via Internet satellite dog collar. Bettany, a real S.O.B., poisons the young son with a chocolate bar with nuts.


It's not clear why Ford and company chose to do Firewall. The script seems quite vacuous on the page and the actors' onscreen excitement (or lack of) is palpable. Ford is brooding and frigid in the lead role. Madsen, in her first role since Sideways, is marginalized in the mother-hen role, her earthiness underplayed. Bettany, who starred in Firewall director Richard Loncraine's previous Wimbledon, is cartoon-like as a menacing hit man. Bettany reels off lines reminiscent of Sharon Stone in Catwoman. Ten-year-old Jimmy Bennett has become the go-to Hollywood kid for being pushed around in a mainstream movie (Amityville Horror, Hostage). In Firewall, he's shoved, poisoned and has his mouth is taped. Just another day's work.


Loncraine's 30 plus-year directing résumé doesn't have a whole lot of good films on it. He's a British director with touches of aristocratic long-windedness, whose best movies include Richard III with Ian McKellen and the 2002 HBO Winston Churchill biopic The Gathering Storm. Firewall is a Hollywood product, stylized around action sequences, bad dialogue and a persistent background soundtrack. None of Firewall's characters make an audience connection. Ford is prone to muddled logic and aloofness. Bettany, as the lovably nefarious villain, should have been a lot more lovable. I'm going to shift the blame of these two proven actors' performances to Loncraine's direction, which, given his history, likely deserves it. References to Internet technology, though presumably sound, come off as jargon and white noise. The ensuing mess is a computer-code chase that doesn't add up to much--and doesn't whet an appetite for Harrison Ford's upcoming Indiana Jones 4.

Bottom Line rated this film 1.5 stars.