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Firewall

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/09/06 23:43:49

"It actually manages to out-generic every Ashley Judd movie ever."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

“Firewall” is a movie that was made not because it would be good, but because it would be easy. The whole thing reeks of a one-sentence pitch given over a quick lunch. Toss in a big name like Harrison Ford as the leading man and you’ve got yourself an instant moneymaker, never mind if it’s actually worth seeing.

And so what if there are plot holes out the wazoo and boneheaded situations gunking up the works? It’s obvious that the many mistakes found in this film could have easily been fixed with a fast rewrite - but nobody cared. It’s not the kind of movie worth thinking about after the closing credits have started rolling, so let’s just slap it together quickly so it can make some good cake on its opening weekend, followed by steady business on the rental level. It’s not like it’s important or anything.

That’s the kind of thinking that drives the film: Stick to the formula. Avoid any storytelling risks. Don’t worry about making it good, just worry about making it.

The pitch: the family of bank security honcho Harrison Ford is held hostage by a group of hi-tech criminals who want Ford to help them snag $100 million - but, of course, they learn that you don’t mess with Harrison Ford. It’s “The Desperate Hours 2006,” or, if the producer at hand has no old-school knowledge, it’s “Panic Room Meets, Oh, Let’s Say, The Net.’”

Now, stop for a moment and imagine how you’d expect a movie like this to play out. Not how you’d play it out yourself, mind you, but how you’d guess a roomful of Hollywood hacks would work it. Got a good picture in your mind? OK. Now understand how sad it is that the crappy vision you’ve created in your brain is exactly what winds up on screen. Exactly. There’s an entire subplot about saving the family dog, for cryin’ out loud.

Let me put it another way: the roster of bad guys consists of the slick, polished, devilishly polite leader who is evil because he is British; the nice, quiet guy who wears glasses and sympathizes with the family; the loud, obnoxious creep who gets to yell “Will you shut that dog up?!” every few scenes; the cold, calculating right hand man who’s not afraid to use violence; and the fifth guy, whom we never get to really meet, but it doesn’t matter because he’ll die early at the hands of the leader, who shoots him so the audience can see what a dangerous fellow this British villain really is. Oh, and they’re all computer geniuses.

Meanwhile, the family consists of: the cool, collected mother, who keeps the kids calm during the siege by soothing them with tales of past vacations, but this being the modern age, she can’t just be a stay-at-home mom, so she’s a successful work-from-home architect; the teenage daughter who loves her rock and roll music videos; and the grade school son, whose peanut allergies and tendencies to hyperventilate become helpful plot points later on. Please, do not look directly into the child actor playing the son when he’s asked to start crying on cue. Not a pretty sight.

And just for fun, let’s add: the cantankerous yet lovable bank president, who wants to know why Harrison Ford isn’t acting his usual Harrison Ford supercool self today; the trusty cohort of Harrison Ford, who exists merely for several plot twist purposes later on; the mousy secretary who just might be Harrison Ford’s only means of help; and the greasy security man from the bank that’s in the process of buying out Harrison Ford’s bank. He’s the one who gets to just miss catching Harrison Ford in the act of helping the bad guys, a collection of scenes that will be thrilling to anyone who can’t figure out that Harrison Ford won’t get caught doing any of this, because if he does, the movie will end seventy minutes too early.

All of these characters come together in a barrage of limp attempts to reenact familiar scenes from better films. “Firewall” is, at its core, little more than the result of screenwriter Joe Forte and director Richard Loncraine cutting out the most obvious bits from fifty other thrillers, then pasting them into their own movie and drawing giant circles around each one with a magic marker.

This, of course, is why the movie was made: because it’s easy. There are countless ways that this story could have been made smarter - an unexpected turn here, a clever bit of dialogue or situation there - and yet the filmmakers abandon every one of them, opting instead to play it depressingly safe. This movie has been designed to provide a few jolts to an audience before reassuring them that everything will be alright in the end. It all winds up too neat, too tidy, as if following a how-to guide for predictably comfortable nailbiters. It’s so diluted that there’s not a single nail to bite here.

Which leaves us focusing on the stupidities of the plot, of which there are too many to list. The key one is the simple fact that Harrison Ford’s family seems to be clinically retarded: we get several escape attempts that fail miserably, thus aiding the bad guys by keeping them in charge - and aiding the screenplay by keeping it going for another ten minutes. (Seriously, family, when all you have to do is run next door, but instead you get in the car and fumble about with the keys, then you deserve to be manhandled by thugs.) A movie like this should be so involving that you should ignore, or at least forgive, its idiotic moments.

But hey, if you’re willing to overlook such blatant blunders as a laptop that manages to get perfect internet access in the middle of an empty field, and if you’re able to excuse a series of editing goofs that are sure to keep the continuity geeks busy for months to come, and if you don’t mind the barrage of product placement (“Harrison Ford has been brought to you by Chrysler, Dell Computers, and Microsoft XP”) that reveals just how much this movie was done for the cash, not the quality, then fine, knock yourself out. After all, Ford himself isn’t too shabby in the role (while he really shouldn’t be doing action movies any more, at least he has the courtesy to not act like a superhero in this one), and the supporting cast (which includes Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen, and Robert Patrick) manages to spout the most ridiculous dialogue without looking like complete asses.

Of course, serviceable acting does not improve a movie as shoddy as “Firewall.” This is not a film - it is a product, dumped off the assembly line with just enough effort to recoup its costs. We have seen this material done so much better before. Why should we reward Warner Brothers for this stale reproduction?

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