Fear of identity theft might be the basis for a nifty thriller. “Firewall” isn’t it, but it could prove useful. It’s almost a catalogue of approaches not to use.
Joe Forte’s thoroughly unpleasant, poorly structured script focuses on a security specialist, Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford), at a Seattle bank that’s in the process of merging. Jack, who has a fabulous home with a spectacular lakefront view, is not having a great day as the movie opens.
He’s offended his boss (Alan Arkin) as well as the new merger guy (Robert Patrick) by appearing to be huffy and preoccupied. When he’s loudly accused of owing $95,000 on a gambling debt, his longtime partner (Robert Forster), who knows Jack isn’t the gambling type, offers to help out.
What really ruins Jack’s day, however, is the kidnapping of his architect wife Beth (Virginia Madsen), daughter Sarah (Carla Schroeder) and son Andrew (Jimmy Bennett). A slimy bank robber, Bill Cox (Paul Bettany), and his nerdy assistants have decided that Jack is the key to unlocking the bank’s vaults and its “virtual money.”
In order to get Jack to download the bank’s millions, Bill threatens to do damage to his family. At one point, he orders one of his ghouls to break the boy’s knee. Later, he coerces the wife into making a phone call that will convince Jack of her infidelity.
This plot bears more than a passing resemblance to Joseph Hayes’ novel and Broadway play, “The Desperate Hours,” and its many spinoffs and unofficial remakes. “Firewall” may not be as clueless as the official 1990 remake with Mickey Rourke and Anthony Hopkins, but it seems just as stranded from reality.
The director, Richard Loncraine, previously worked with Bettany on the bland 2004 tennis romance, “Wimbledon,” and once more he fails to plug into the actor’s special qualities. Bill could have been a heavy with real weight, but there’s nothing unique or scary about the conception of the part or the way Bettany plays it.
He’s just another boring bad guy who lacks motivation and self-destructs almost as soon as he tries to establish his authority. When Bill foolishly shoots one of his own accomplices, the others have good cause to wonder if they’re next — and whether they have anything to lose by attempting to topple him.
Under the circumstances, Bettany does his best, but he’s a long way here from his essential performances in “A Beautiful Mind” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” His potential still seems considerable; he just needs to pick better scripts. As for one-time Oscar nominees Arkin, Madsen and Forster, Loncraine finds almost nothing for them to do. Only Mary Lynn Rajskub, as Jack’s nimble secretary, really registers.
The movie marks something of a comeback for Ford, and that’s a pity. He’s waited three years (after the failure of 2003’s “Hollywood Homicide”) to pick this overcooked B-movie as the film that will precede his next Indiana Jones adventure? That’s really sad.